Last night's National Symphony Orchestra concert was pure Leonard Slatkin, juxtaposing contemporary American and more traditional European fare in an energetically delivered performance. The NSO explored some of its musical director's favorite pieces, including an early work of the gifted American composer John Corigliano, and the maestro carried it all off with characteristic aplomb and energy. A large part of the success of the evening at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall rested on the solid playing of the orchestra and its experienced guest soloist, James Tocco.
Corigliano completed his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra at the age of 29. A remarkably strong work, it takes in an enormous range of musical styles, splicing together sinewy late-romantic melodies, modern percussive rhythms and occasional spicy dissonance. Although the final product may or may not be truly idiomatic, the four-movement work is doubtless the product of a boundless musical imagination. It is little wonder that Corigliano, now 66, would go on from this early work to become one of the country's foremost composers, earning such laurels as the Pulitzer Prize.
The concert brought together two of Corigliano's most fervent champions.
Slatkin is clearly bewitched with the coruscating vigor of Corigliano's music, and along with the NSO, he has premiered several of his compositions. Meanwhile, pianist Tocco is practically making a career these days of performing Corigliano's concerto.
This felicitous meeting of the minds resulted in a fiery yet crisp NSO performance. Tocco brought out the demonic energy of the work, confidently and skillfully slashing his way through the pounding chords and careening octave passages of the foreboding opening movement. After the fleet, driving Scherzo, there was a nice balance in the weightier Adagio.
Tocco colored the piano to bring out the wide-ranging harmonies and melodies of the finale, which ended with a breathtaking crash.
The concert began with a tender account of Richard Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll," which the composer dedicated to his wife, Cosima. Even if the larger orchestral version heard last night sacrificed some of the music's sparkle, Slatkin carefully caressed the gentle, undulant phrase that forms the basis for the work and coaxed some well-crafted playing from each section, especially the glowing horns.
Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 is a much more extroverted, big-breathed piece of music, and the NSO took the full measure of the work to close out the concert. Slatkin avoided the constant temptation for overstatement. Some carefully shaped moments brought out the music's luminous inner voices, but the conductor never allowed the details to detract from the general sweep of the score. There were numerous magical moments in the lovely Adagio, and the charging NSO violins brought a vibrating energy to the dashing finale, slicing through the rest of the bustling orchestra.
This superb concert repeats tonight and tomorrow.