With Zubin Mehta in Israel, the original soloist falling ill, and an entirely new program, it fell to assistant conductor Samuel Wong to save the New York Philharmonic's concert at the Kennedy Center from an ignominious end Saturday night. His meticulous technique and the Philharmonic's unfailing musicianship not only saved the day but made it memorable. True, this young conductor was helped by an excellent program. Edouard Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole" and Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 will always be crowd-pleasers though of very different hues.
Success was not instantaneous. It took guest violinist Mark Peskanov two rather timid movements to find the Spanish sun in the Lalo work, and the warm rapport he so clearly enjoyed with the conductor only became evident to the audience in the first strains of the Intermezzo. But once the spirit was found, soloist and orchestra never let it go. Wong adroitly kept his details in subtle check for Peskanov's blistering solo passage work, and the remaining three movements were perfectly executed.
One could not hope for a more telling reading of the Shostakovich piece. The Philharmonic moved the huge gray slabs of sound around with accuracy, pathos and withering intensity. Whether marshaling his forces for the dunning horror of the Moderato, the balletic sarcasm of the Allegretto, or the restless despondency of the Largo, Wong directed with clarity, confidence and passion.