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Supranaturalism and the NSO

Iván FischerWhen given the chance, National Symphony Orchestra Principal Conductor Iván Fischer programs his favorite pieces and executes them with an effusive, yet sincere personal touch. Reminiscent of his personalized Czech Bouquet program two years ago, Fischer programmed Beethoven’s sixth symphony and Bartók’s music to the ballet The Wooden Prince for the NSO’s first subscription series weekend. It was also pleasing to hear the orchestra carry the full program without the distraction of a concerto soloist.

With diligent patience and simplicity, Fischer navigated the orchestra in the programmatic walk through nature of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Structurally, the first instance of a truly strong dynamic is well along in the Thunderstorm movement; however, harmonically the climax of the work is during a slow progression of tremolo chords during the final Shepherd’s song movement -- a moment worth the wait. Beethoven’s quasi-tone poem allowed the opportunity for the bubbling winds (the new Principal Oboist, in particular) to shine, as well as the horn section, which frequently provided a sublime presence within rather thin writing with flawless execution. The string sections often lacked definition and precision, with back rows at times tagging along in the past tense.

In 1918, Bartók’s ballet The Wooden Prince (previewed by Charles earlier this week) once shared a double-bill with his opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Bartók’s high-Romantic orchestration and dramatism, which could change emotive direction on a pinpoint, paired with exceptional playing from the NSO made for a highly satisfying listening experience. Fischer held the audience’s hand, saying, “I would like to invite you to imagine the stage action.” Action there was, with the help of supertitles gently offering the audience situational cues without dialogue.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, 'Pastoral' and 'Prince' Flaunt NSO's Fischer (Washington Post, October 2)

T. L. Ponick, NSO's 'No. 6' opener tranquil (Washington Times, October 2)
In this story, Nature holds all power. The Fairy who unleashes the forest and waters to halt the longing Prince from reaching the Princess, with whom he had fallen in love at first sight, is revealed as female when “she comforts” the sleeping Prince. He is exhausted from the Princess’s rejection when she chooses to give her seductive attentions to the toy Wooden Prince that the Fairy has magically given life. The Fairy leads the Prince to “triumph” as the King of Nature. However, the Prince is still in love with the Princess. When she returns with a rickety and “disheveled” Wooden Prince, cleverly portrayed by bassoons and bows tapping strings, the Princess targets the true Prince, who rejects her once but “embraces” her after she cuts off all of her hair and casts off her cloak and crown. A “long kiss” ensues with lush, transforming music to match, followed by the stage instruction “curtain slowly falls.”

This concert will be repeated tonight (October 3, 8 pm) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

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