Rouse, Phaeton, Houston Symphony, C. Eschenbach (Telarc, 2006)
Some of the tour cities will be treated to Christopher Rouse's barnstorming mini-tone poem Phaethon, which makes quite an arc across the sky as a concert opener. This is the first time the NSO has played the piece, and it did not sound yet quite as rhythmically tight across the ensemble as it needs to be. The musicians played it with great verve and attention to its vivid details: burbling woodwinds (what sounded like a slide whistle may have been the flexatone?), kooky muted brass, the dull bark of an ostinato tuba line. A berserk French horn call, played with exceptional force, signaled the high-flying disaster that befalls the title character, with the full complement of six percussionists all walloping something, the climaxes marked by enormous hammer strikes (think Mahler's sixth symphony) and the swinging of a gigantic racket. It is a piece that should raise some eyebrows on the tour, just as it is meant to do.
Cellist Daniel Müller-Schott serves half the solo duties of the tour, with Lang Lang reprising his rendition of Grieg's piano concerto, heard in Washington in October. Müller-Schott, last heard here with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, did not do much with Dvořák's cello concerto. He had an ardent, never overbearing tone, lovely on the second theme of the first movement, although not as beautiful as the way it was introduced by the French horn solo in the orchestral exposition. His intonation was not always on target, in the development of the first movement, for example, but better in the second movement after he retuned his strings. In the slow movement, the interlude with the horns was excellent, and Müller-Schott had a lovely cadenza moment with the solo flute. He was freer with rubato in the third movement, alternately mischievous and soupy, but the overall effect was oddly underwhelming especially by comparison to the last time the NSO performed it, with Yo-Yo Ma in 2014.
Anne Midgette, NSO anticipates upcoming tour with Central European program (Washington Post, January 22)
This concert would have been repeated tonight and Saturday night, but the arrival of a blizzard in Washington has closed the Kennedy Center along with everything else.