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Augustin Hadelich with the NSO

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Flying Solo (Bartók, Paganini), A. Hadelich
In the last few years, pops concerts and other activities have made the last month of the National Symphony Orchestra's season seem cut short or non-existent. This year, happily, the Kennedy Center Concert Hall has a series of concerts, with some satisfying repertoire, that runs through most of the month of June. The latest one, heard on Friday night, features the return engagement of Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, his first since 2010. It opened with Mozart's "Little" G minor symphony (K. 183), not heard from the NSO since 1998, and closed with a rousing performance of Prokofiev's cantata version of his score for the film Alexander Nevsky, a piece associated with former music director Mstislav Rostropovich and last conducted by him in 1993. While that was all well and good, what came in the middle was the astounding violinist Augustin Hadelich, who has distinguished himself time and again as one of the great musicians of our day.

We have reviewed Hadelich in solo recitals (2011, 2009) and playing chamber music with the Musicians from Marlboro, but since we missed his local debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, this was the first time we have heard him play a concerto, in his NSO debut. Hadelich's technique is nothing short of astounding, so there was little to complain about in the solo part of Dvořák's A minor violin concerto, with flawless octaves and other double stops, immaculately tuned, and daring finger-work. Hadelich's tone is intensely refined and clear but not overly large, and Hrůša, ever careful of balances, did well holding back the orchestra when he needed to do so. The first movement opened with Hadelich trading brilliant cadenza-like moments with the orchestra, with Hrůša following his soloist's impassioned stretching of the tempo here and there. A pastoral second movement, with Hadelich's sweet solo entwined gorgeously with horns and woodwinds, was followed by a tour de force finale, its joyous theme and furiant-like shifts of meter handled with urbane control by Hrůša. Appreciative ovations -- but not as overflowing as one might have expected from such a fine performance -- earned an encore of Paganini's 24th caprice. It is one of the most difficult pieces in the solo repertoire, and although I have never heard it played with greater technical perfection, Hadelich's performance left me overcome because of its musicality, that he phrased and caressed the piece so melodically, while making child's play of its virtuosic demands.

Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, NSO revisits Prokofiev’s ‘Alexander Nevsky’ (Washington Post< June 7)

Katherine Boyle, Augustin Hadelich: The ‘golden age’ violinist to make his National Symphony Orchestra debut (Washington Post, June 5)
Hrůša's Mozart combined an ultra-smooth string sound, particularly in the con sordini second movement, with horns encouraged, it seemed, to play raucously, a hot-blooded sound like that of hunters who had taken a wrong turn and ended up in the concert hall. Hrůša was not that concerned with keeping strictly to his rather fast opening tempo in the first movement, but he enlivened the second movement with an active pulse that still did not feel rushed and a forceful beat in the Menuetto, with principal oboist Nicholas Stovall adding quirky, ornate embellishments in the gentle trio. Only the fourth movement felt a little harried, by the choice of and insistence on a tempo that was probably just a notch too fast. Finally, in the performance of Alexander Nevsky, Hrůša gave the orchestra its head, in this most bombastic (and downright nationalistic) of scores, and they sounded great, generally overshadowing the Washington Chorus with all that brass and percussion. Indeed, it was all perhaps a little over the top (if that is even possible with this piece), the accelerando in the battle scene going slightly haywire, an excess moderated by the heart-melting lament of mezzo-soprano Nadya Serdyuk in The Field of the Dead, another worthy NSO debut. During the hushed string introduction, she marched in solemnly through the violins, sang from memory in a silken, puissant tone, and then marched slowly away.

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

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