What's the Italian recipe for training young orchestral musicians to produce world-class concerts? The Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini knows: Sprinkle liberally with veteran first-chair performers from professional European ensembles and add Lorin Maazel as the music director.

Monday night at the Kennedy Center, the Filarmonica proved that was the perfect mix of ingredients.

Maazel's movements are as musical as the sounds he coaxes from the orchestra. He was fascinating to watch: Each sweep of the arm, bounce of the baton, wave of the hand and subtle wiggle of a finger brought an instant response from this attentive orchestra.

Though the 110 musicians played with excellent ensemble, they initially missed some subtleties in their cautiousness. In Rossini's "Thieving Magpie" Overture, the opening march was perfectly military, and the fluttering woodwinds nailed their solos; however, they lacked that special ironic twist. But Pietro Mascagni's Intermezzo from "Cavalleria Rusticana" was pure magic -- its luscious melody dramatically played by the strings, and the heart-pounding romanticism of the work enhanced by the rumbling organ.

Two floridly visual tone poems by Ottorino Respighi composed the second half of the program. "The Fountains of Rome" began and ended impossibly softly -- a fantastic feat for such a large group. In "The Pines of Rome," a sexy English horn solo preceded the final march, in which the orchestra pulled out all the stops for a thrilling crescendo.

-- Gail Wein