Conductor: Juraj Valcuha
Haydn: Symphony No 85 in B-Flat Major, "La Reine"
Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No 1, Op. 35 - Jennifer Koh
Mahler: Symphony No 1 in D Major, "Titan"
The last concert of a season is always bittersweet as the audience is getting ready for a couple of long months without the regular trips to the orchestra's traditional venue. In the case of the National Symphony Orchestra, home is of course the Kennedy Center concert hall, maybe not the best hall in the world, but, again, it is home.
The NSO, however, wouldn't bid its audience au revoir without a bang, at least, and yesterday we had an enticing program of Haydn's cheerful La Reine Symphony, Szymanowski's luscious violin concerto, in Jennifer's Koh ever-safe hands, and Mahler's sprawling Symphony No 1. All of that under the young but already well-informed baton of Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha, who would be making his first appearance with the NSO.
Things got comfortably started with Haydn's typical mix of sparkly refinement and understated virtuosity. It was a favorite of the French queen Marie-Antoinette, hence its nickname "La Reine" and, unlike the French monarchy, its popularity has never waned ever since. Last night, maestro Valcuha led the NSO in a detailed and unified interpretation of it, with just the right amount of sophisticated zest.
Polish-born Szymanowski was a well-travelled man when he sat down to write his stunning violin concerto, and the work's multi-faceted quality certainly attests of its numerous influences. Lasting almost 30 minutes and played without interruption, it is a score that constantly keeps the audience on the edge with its ever-changing moods. The unabashedly sensual passages and the brashly colorful explosions gave Jennifer Koh the perfect opportunity to display her formidable talent at conveying an amazing range of sounds. Her performance was as assured and fulfilling as they come, all the way to the unexpectedly playful last note.
Mahler's Titan symphony is, well, titanesque indeed in its immensity, and the orchestra gave it a vigorous treatment, from the bucolic first movement to the gloomy but eventually triumphant fourth one. The dance of the second movement was rambunctious fun, the total opposite of the dark, distorted version of "Frère Jacques" opening the third movement. This brazenly uplifting performance for sure cheered up all the spirits and concluded the NSO's regular 2009-2010 season with a resoundingly grand finale.