Review: NSO at the Kennedy Center

Last night I went to hear the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel play a selection of pieces by Romantic composers: the Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, by Berlioz; Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition; and, in between, the Grieg A minor piano concerto, played by one Simon Trpçeski, who is apparently Macedonian and whose name has an entirely different mark on the c (ˇ) but I can't manage to reproduce it and anyway it would probably still be unpronounceable. I mean, four consonants in a row? Seriously?

Ahem. Where was I? Right. The NSO was fantastic. "The Great Gate of Kiev" – finale to the Exhibition – was worth the price of admission by itself. The Berlioz was handled beautifully as well. On a side-note, however: the program informed me that a critic once said Berlioz' music contained no melody. While this is an exaggeration, I think it is a very insightful comment. Berlioz' music contains many themes, but few seem, to me, to reach a successful conclusion: instead they get lost in fantastic harmonies and variations. One moment is beautiful and the next is excellent and the motion is from brilliant moment to beautiful glimpse – but the melody is overwhelmed by the attention. His phrases are memorable; themes as wholes less so.

But mainly I want to talk about the pianist. The musical performance was superb. My impression is that his interpretation was noticeably slower than my recording of the piece (Phillip Entremont, with Ormandy's Philadelphia Orchestra), and the rests and ritards often seemed dramatically exaggerated.

However, his presentation was noteworthy. At first I thought he was a showman type, but I revised that opinion: he simply seemed to be lost in the music: during the orchestral sections, he nodded and motioned along with the most avid fans, with apparently no compunctions from self-consciousness whatsoever. At the same time, it was clear that he took a very personal approach to the music and his interaction with the orchestra. While the program notes said this was his debut with the NSO, Trpceski appeared on familiar terms with the orchestra – and especially maestro Maazel – during the performance. While I thought at times that Trpceski seemed to be deliberately exaggerating some sections to get a reaction from the conductor, I was most sure of it at the end of the second movement, when he repeated the final highest ornament three times: certainly twice. Although, I could be wrong that this was unusual – my only concrete reference is my recording and I can't find a professional review.

All in all, a highly satisfactory night – I also came away with Trpceski's recordings of Rachmaninov's four piano concertos, with the Liverpool Symphony Orchestra.

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