Face it — the National Gallery of Art does not have a concert hall. It has the charming Gallery Courts in the West Building where most of the weekly concerts in its season are held, echoey and with difficult sightlines. For special events, it has the atrium of its East Building — visually magnificent (although its sightlines are also problematic) but acoustically impossible. Sounds reverberate there with booming insistence, muddying ensembles into an agreeable soup — with one exception — the French horn. If you are a horn player, you’ve got to be in heaven there. Horn lines emerge with a glow of burnished opulence.
Members of the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra and the National Gallery of Art Orchestra held forth Sunday in a program that, as far as possible, took advantage of the acoustics. Both Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” can be enjoyed purely for their color and splashes of sound and, led by Alexander Titov, the St. Petersburg conductor, the ensemble provided these in abundance.
But for the second (the “Pictures”) half of the program, I moved to the single row of seats on the second level, literally the best seats in the house, where lines could be discerned and some details heard. From there it was clear that Titov was not only whipping up big sonorities but also carving out shapely phrasing and incisive attacks.
The program’s biggest loser in the acoustics battle was the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3. During the occasional moments when Xiayin Wang was on her own, she could be heard to be a splendid Prokofiev pianist, intense, astonishingly agile and accurate. The first movement’s cascades of scales were remarkably even and powered out with an irresistible sense of momentum. Most of the time, however, she and Prokofiev’s vivid personality were submerged in a general mush dominated by percussion and low orchestral voices.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.