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NSO Intoxicates with Scheherazade

Friday’s performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with cellist Heinrich Schiff highlighted the National Symphony Orchestra’s strengths as an ensemble. Conducted in a minimalist way by Roberto Minczuk, the NSO persuasively led the audience through 1001 nights of the Sultana’s exotic tales told to the Sultan, a man who normally killed each wife after their first nuptial night. Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef portrayed the intoxicating voice of the Sultana with spot-on fantasy. The work also provided the opportunity for the wind principals to perform at their best, particularly oboist Rebecca Henderson and bassoonist Sue Heineman.

Shostakovich’s intense Cello Concerto No. 1 – composed for the late Mstislav Rostropovich – contains creative orchestration and form. The rock-steady opening movement (Allegretto) is begun by the cellist and features the solo horn (the only brass instrument in this work) and contrabassoon. The second movement (Moderato) opens with lush string material reminiscent of Vaughan-Williams until dissonant notes colorfully pervade the texture. An English-sounding melody is first stated by the solo cello and accompanied with a viola counter-melody and low strings pizzicato, only to soon morph into the more typical, mysterious character of Shostakovich. Most mysterious was the dialogue between Schiff’s harmonic high notes and the celesta. The extended third movement features an introverted cadenza for cello alone that leads into a sprightly final movement (Allegro con moto) with a plethora of timpani bursts.

Other Reviews:

Andrew Lindemann Malone, National Symphony Takes a Cue From the Age of Slava (Washington Post, November 16)
The concert opened with Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas. This homage to a Spanish writer killed by Franco’s “Black Squad” features the limited instrumentation of piccolo, clarinet, two trumpets, trombone, tuba, tam-tam, violins, double bass, and piano. The work encompasses three movements within a brief ten minutes and leaves one wanting to hear more of the excellent Spanish-sounding trumpet and tuba solos. Regardless of the weak attendance, the first time these ears have heard an NSO audience truly silent and engaged (unlike what Simon Rattle encountered recently at Carnegie Hall) was during poetic periods of Schiff’s and Bar-Josef’s playing.

This concert repeats this evening (November 17, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

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