When given the chance, National Symphony Orchestra Principal Conductor Iván Fischer programs his favorite pieces and executes them with an effusive, yet sincere personal touch. Reminiscent of his personalized Czech Bouquet program two years ago, Fischer programmed Beethoven’s sixth symphony and Bartók’s music to the ballet The Wooden Prince for the NSO’s first subscription series weekend. It was also pleasing to hear the orchestra carry the full program without the distraction of a concerto soloist.
With diligent patience and simplicity, Fischer navigated the orchestra in the programmatic walk through nature of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Structurally, the first instance of a truly strong dynamic is well along in the Thunderstorm movement; however, harmonically the climax of the work is during a slow progression of tremolo chords during the final Shepherd’s song movement -- a moment worth the wait. Beethoven’s quasi-tone poem allowed the opportunity for the bubbling winds (the new Principal Oboist, in particular) to shine, as well as the horn section, which frequently provided a sublime presence within rather thin writing with flawless execution. The string sections often lacked definition and precision, with back rows at times tagging along in the past tense.
In 1918, Bartók’s ballet The Wooden Prince (previewed by Charles earlier this week) once shared a double-bill with his opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Bartók’s high-Romantic orchestration and dramatism, which could change emotive direction on a pinpoint, paired with exceptional playing from the NSO made for a highly satisfying listening experience. Fischer held the audience’s hand, saying, “I would like to invite you to imagine the stage action.” Action there was, with the help of supertitles gently offering the audience situational cues without dialogue.
Anne Midgette, 'Pastoral' and 'Prince' Flaunt NSO's Fischer (Washington Post, October 2)
T. L. Ponick, NSO's 'No. 6' opener tranquil (Washington Times, October 2)
This concert will be repeated tonight (October 3, 8 pm) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.