Though the commemorative focus of 1991 has been on the bicentennial of Mozart's death, this year is also the 150th anniversary of Dvorak's birth. The National Symphony Orchestra, led by Affiliate Artist Conductor Randall Craig Fleischer, uncorked the champagne last night at the Kennedy Center with an exuberant account of the Czech composer's Violin Concerto in A Minor, sparked by soloist and NSO concertmaster William Steck.
Dvorak was the centerpiece of a program in which nationalism served as the theme. The patriotic fervor underlying Sibelius's "Finlandia" came across loud and mostly clear through brass fanfares that lacked crispness in some attacks. Dvorak's Violin Concerto takes several movements before its ethnic flavor surfaces in the finale's insistent Bohemian dance rhythms. Fleischer got what he wanted from the orchestra, adding body English discreetly for emphasis. Steck, whether dashing off a scale passage or expressing the melancholic Czech dumka spirit, was unflappable, content to let the music's drama speak for itself.
Fleischer and the NSO expended the most energy painting four vivid Russian pictures in Borodin's Second Symphony. The first movement's ceremonial theme rang out almost sardonically, while pulsating French horns reinforced the scherzo's madcap air. And the finale reached a nearly Dionysian frenzy.