Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden led the National Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening in a program of Wagenaar, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. Van Zweden, who is Music Director of the Dallas Symphony, violently jerked the musical leash of the hundred-plus musical personalities to establish leadership in the beginning of Johan Wagenaar’s Overture to Cyrano de Bergerac. His abusive gestures during the first half of the Wagenaar, resembling the smacking of a lazy mule, put the orchestra on notice to obey. Having begun his career as the youngest concertmaster of the Royal Concertegebouw Orchestra at the age of 19, Van Zweden knows what life is like as an orchestral musician; hence, it was surprising to see him so quickly dominate the ensemble instead of seducing them into his musical world with a lighter, diplomatic touch. Folks may know of Wagenaar only from the large display of his name (with other composers on the wall and balcony) in the Royal Concertgebouw’s Grote Zaal (celebrating its Jubilee this year). The NSO, in their first performance of Wagenaar in the ensemble’s history, embraced the quasi-Tchaikovsky style and brought out the work’s humor.
Swiss pianist Andreas Haefliger joined a reduced ensemble for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, on a new Steinway that is brassy, yet somewhat thin in tone. Whether the piano arrived with Haefliger or is a new fixture for the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, under Haefliger’s hands, clarity and thus strength were missing from the performance. The outcome of efforts to seemingly create tonal effects similar to a glassy, reflective lake mostly resulted in vague mush. The masturbatory cadenza in the first movement was beyond tangential thematically (particularly the arpeggio exercises) and about five minutes in length. Van Zweden insisted that the orchestra hold back their dynamics in the first two movements, which made the contrastingly bright final movement gripping.
Anne Midgette, Jaap van Zweden leads National Symphony Orchestra in up and down program (Washington Post, April 26)