Conductor Edward Gardner (photo by Benjamin Ealovega)
As Gardner announced before Falstaff he thinks audiences need help following the dramatic action in Elgar's delightful Shakespearean tone poem. To that end, we were invited to follow the story through descriptions on a supertitle screen, and it did enhance the music's effect. Gardner is climbing the ladder of principal guest positions, having served in that capacity with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and now the Bergen Philharmonic. He was able to bring the music to life with decisive ideas and a clear, contained set of gestures. He put the second violin section back with the first violins, moving the violas to the outer right edge of the orchestra. This allowed them to be heard much more clearly, a good idea since both Elgar and Walton gave them important melodies. The sotto voce sound of the string in the robbery scene (as well as of the violas and cellos in the scene in Shallow's orchard) and the hilarious bassoon solos were high points. Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef had a wistful, nostalgic sound as Falstaff dreamed of himself as a slender youth.
Seth Arenstein, NSO opens season with Shakespeare in words and music (Washington Classical Review, September 30)
Anne Midgette, NSO starts season with a new face in Shakespeare (Washington Post, September 29)
Actors William Vaughan and Audrey Bertaux were less memorable in the balcony scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, staged with him moving among the orchestra musicians and her in the chorister seating above. This led just as aptly into the final selection, Tchaikovsky's fantasy-overture on Romeo and Juliet, which received a performance that really made me like it. It is true that in this piece, Tchaikovsky does not give in to his usual tendency to go on too long, but still Gardner accomplished the near-impossible by making me enthusiastic about a Tchaikovsky symphonic work. The battle scene was well marshaled — all fast, crisp, and aligned — and Gardner never let the potentially soupy bits wallow or drag in the least.
This concert repeats this evening at 8 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.