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NSO Plays Brahms

David Zinman
David Zinman, conductor (photo by Priska Ketterer /
Tonhalle Orchester Zürich)
Thursday evening, the National Symphony Orchestra presented a pleasing program of high-Romantic music by Webern, Schoenberg, and Brahms conducted by the esteemed David Zinman. The program was further satisfying given that the orchestra was allowed to carry the entire program without resorting to the overused inclusion of a soloist and a concerto. The first half of the program comprised Webern’s Langsamer Satz (“Slow Movement”) transcribed by Gerard Schwarz, and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”), op. 4, both for string orchestra.

Originally for string quartet and written when Webern was at the fresh age of twenty-two, Langsamer Satz embodies the lush ideal of late Romanticism. The NSO string players did not quite attain that ideal since the lower string sound was often narrow, and from all sections a luxuriant legato never materialized – a challenge in such an unhurried work. Most disappointing was the frequent descending triplet figure that was the same each time and heard ploddingly as unshaped notes. Fortunately, the Schoenberg tone poem accomplished an ideal balance of legato, fluency, and flow.

Verklärte Nacht is based on a poem by Richard Dehmel that explores the complex emotion of anxiety due to an imbalance of truth between two people, which is then reconciled so that life is renewed and hope is found. Intense pain expressed by the entire ensemble is followed by sincere dialogue between equals as depicted by the concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef and the first violist. She gives him the bad news, they are frightfully upset, and then gradually healing occurs and musical motifs rise as perhaps morning breaks. The dark night of the soul is eventually over.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, The NSO Does Mod in a Romantic Mode (Washington Post, April 24)
Zinman’s superb leadership of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E Minor helped create a memorable performance. The stately tempo of the first movement (Allegro non troppo) allowed adequate space for nuance and clarity, while additions of brass lines added color instead of volume. Not overly controlling, Zinman allowed the NSO musicians to unfold this substantial work at their own pace. The sublime clarinet solos in the second movement (Andante moderato) enhanced the perfect transitions and carefulness carried over from the first movement. It was a pity that the violins and oboes did not quite have the technical capacity to keep up with Zinman’s tempo in the third movement (Allegro giocoso). Zinman, having reserved his energy through the entire evening, demanded a striking intensity; the orchestra met those demands, except for in the most difficult technical passages, where there were some blemishes. Friday and Saturday’s performances should be perfect.

This concert repeats tonight and tomorrow night (April 24 and 25, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

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