One thing you can say about Gianandrea Noseda: he is willing to take on anything. His repertoire in his inaugural season as the National Symphony Orchestra’s music director has ranged all over the map; some favorite Italian composers, yes, but also Brahms and Beethoven and John Adams. This week’s pairing, in his penultimate subscription program this season, was Stravinsky and Mozart — a frame of Mozart, as he said in his remarks from the stage, “with two jewels in between,” the “jewels” in question being Stravinky’s “Symphonies of Wind Instruments” and a violin concerto.
The violin concerto was a jewel indeed: as played by Noseda and Leila Josefowicz and the willing orchestra, it was a burst of joy. Josefowicz now specializes in contemporary music to such a degree that Stravinsky is a veritable Old Master for her, and she made him sound that way: closer to the tradition he was breaking away from in 1931 than to the years of experimentation that came after. There was a veritable jollity to the opening movement, with distant echoes of the fairgrounds of his “Petrushka” in its circuslike mood — so jolly, indeed, that it kept drowning out the soloists in merry brass. And in the third movement there was a hint of the kind of “gypsy” fiddling sanctified by the late 19th-century Romantics in the minor-key curlicues the soloist threw out in response to anguished throbs from the strings. With this program, the violinist concludes her mini-residency this season at the Kennedy Center, and demonstrates that we could stand to hear more of her.
Noseda led the whole program with a sense of balletic buoyancy, optically, at least; his work in the last few weeks has been all about fluidity. And this encounter with Stravinsky was more successful than the antecedent at the orchestra’s concert for the Shift festival this past Saturday night, when “Pulcinella” failed to cohere; presumably this week’s program had more rehearsal. “Symphonies of Wind Instruments,” which like “Pulcinella” exposes the players, landed somewhere in between: It featured some very good playing, with strong horns and flutes, but the trombones and trumpets were still slightly strident, and the piece dissolved toward the end.
For Noseda’s light touch, in these works, doesn’t lead necessarily to light playing. The opening piece was Mozart’s arrangement of a fugue by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, J. S.’s oldest son, performed here by a chamber-size orchestra; and the final piece was the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, familiar and yet not all that often performed (the NSO last played it in 1997). Even in the smaller first piece, Noseda’s Mozart had some tautness but was also warm and full: a contemporary orchestral approach that disregards some of the hallmarks, not to say cliches, of historically informed performance.
In the past, I have called Noseda mannered. This season in Washington, as he plays such a wide range of music in a range of venues (including, last week, Union Station), audiences may be seeing him becoming more and more himself. And so far, he wears well. I was disappointed by the “Symphonies of Wind Instruments,” but nonetheless I left the concert hall, after the generous Mozart, with a general sense of enjoyment.
The program repeats Friday morning and Saturday night.