The China National Symphony Orchestra, which appeared Friday at the Music Center at Strathmore (and at George Mason University the following evening) showed itself to be an efficient, professional group without a strong artistic profile.
The winds were unreliable in blend, attack, and intonation, but the strings had a clean, healthy fiber to their sound. Conductor Li Xincao, who stepped in on one rehearsal to replace the group’s indisposed music director, was quite good. He was expressive when needed and stayed out of the way when not. He conducted the “Yellow River Concerto” virtually from memory, his eyes glued to his piano soloist most of the time.
The program included a movement from the gentle, euphonious “Earth Requiem,” a recent work by Guan Xia; the concerto, a broth of kitsch from approximately seven composers concocted at the height of China’s infamous Cultural Revolution; and ended with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The soloist, 20-year-old Peng-Peng Gong, was impressive in the heavily derivative, Lisztian romps up and down the keyboard, both mature and flashy. What sort of musicianship he would show in works of substance, one could only guess.
In the Beethoven, Xincao offered a solid, middle-of-the-road interpretation. The famous Allegretto movement moved along nicely, and the finale had real fire. The CNS musicians don’t “self-balance” — too many chords were oddly blended — but many times they produced music of energetic beauty.
Battey is a freelance writer.