I now know why Emil de Cou does not mind leading an orchestra at Wolf Trap: where else would he get an announcement over the speaker-system like the team’s star quarterback taking to the gridiron? Thus opened a musical saga that began in the footsteps of hairy-footed hobbits meandering their way through Howard Shore’s score depicting Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings – a medley of appropriations, plagiarism, and appealing banalities.
It was followed by a little speech on the part of Wolf Trap Festival Conductor de Cou that would have had my eyes rolling at the Kennedy Center but was appropriate and funny in the Wolf Trap setting… reading the mood of the summery crowd just perfectly. Except, perhaps, when he made reference to the incestuous traditions of the deep south… even if such a reference is rather difficult to avoid when summarizing Wagner’s Ring cycle.
The Anna Russell Album
Emil de Cou is one of the most affectionate and passionate conductors I have heard or seen on the podium – but the efficiency of that is near-impossible to tell in the setting of the Filene Center… much like it would be difficult to judge the lumen efficiency of a light bulb on a Sahara afternoon. The short-sleeved, substitute-studded National Symphony Orchestra did play with panache and skill (first violins were a little underpowered and occasionally scrappy – but it featured happy brass), and Wagner was appropriately played for beauty (which it should be, anyway) and effect (which served the setting’s purpose). From the Rhine Journey to the Funeral March it led to the orchestral hum-along blockbuster, the Ride of the Valkyries that sent the thousands at Wolf Trap into half time with Germanic vigor and imaginary horns.
Mark J. Estren, National Symphony Orchestra (Washington Post, July 22)
The capable young singers were baritone Weston Hunt, the heavily miked tenor/swan (not a goose, last time I checked) Javier Abreau, and the radiant soprano Maureen McKay, a Filene Young Artist who acted her part charmingly and kept an effective, maximum distance from the microphone. For an unpretentious, un-intimidating classical music evening with beer and bug spray, Wolf Trap offers a few more concerts this summer.