The National Symphony Orchestra opened with Leonard Bernstein's Slava - a political overture written for this evening's guest conductor (and former music director) Mstislav Rostropovich. It and the Dutilleux were perhaps the only pieces that seemed to not linger in astonishingly slow tempos.
I've often said about Rostropovich's cello playing that I learn little about a piece or composer, but a lot about Rostropovich. By that I mean he has a commanding personality and style of playing - when you hear his Vivaldi Concerto, Dvorak Concerto, Shostakovich Concerto - you hear the interpretation of Rostropovich, which in the case of Vivaldi especially is much about Slava and not the Red Priest. (Another comparison is to take the Hamlet Soliloquy, "To be or not to be..." Some actors would bring out the text, some make it about themselves, or others what Shakespeare's dramatic intention to heart.)
Rostropovich is probably the 20th Century's great cellist and I'm glad to have heard him on several occasions - and now I can add having seen him conduct. At age 79, he's certainly allowed his digressions, interpretations and idiocyncracies.
So the Bernstein was fun and tempos moved along. The next work by another friend of Rostropovich, Benjamin Britten was the Four Sea Interludes. This was fine playing by the group, with what were slower passages that I've not heard, but really work to the music's sensual sonorities in the final movement, Storm. I was shocked how much I did enjoy it - and the second, Sunday Morning was great to linger in the horns and bells, always a favorite passage of mine. Also it should be noted, I've never heard the NSO cello section sound so sweet, in both this Britten and the Dvorak, they were playing their hearts out, and it could be heard.
Next was the US premiere of the revised version of Dutilleux's Correspondances with soprano Dawn Upshaw. This revised version includes a new movement that was added after the 2003 premiere. I seem to recall liking the work on the radio from NPR's SymphonyCast with the Berlin Philharmonic - and again, was taken to new worlds by the original sounds of this composer. It was also moved along by what I thought were tempos designed by/for teh soloist who would need breaths...but I heard a story from a NSO player that afternoon that during rehearsal, Henri was asked to comment. He rose, walked carefully (and rather slowly - taking several minutes to arrive at the podium) and simply said, "It needs to be faster." (The NSO player found great charm and irony that a lengthy trip to say a short time about quickening things!)
See the next post for the second half and about a surprise!