The National Symphony Orchestra played the first subscription concert of its 75th anniversary season Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center sounding downright youthful - in the best sense. A fresh, eager quality in the playing enlivened a chestnut-heavy program potently conducted by Leonard Slatkin, now in his 10th year with the NSO.
From the hushed, expectant opening of Weber's Oberon Overture, the conductor's knack for revealing subtleties of instrumental coloring and creating rich atmosphere paid off handsomely. The ensemble's lithe response, particularly the sheen in the strings, reconfirmed the fine honing that marks Slatkin's tenure.
Those strings poured on the lushness for Vaughan Williams' Five Variants on `Dives and Lazarus,' a too-rarely-heard charmer that Slatkin shaped elegantly.
In Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, the conductor kept the super-emotional elements neatly balanced with the lighter ones, resulting in considerable transparency of texture. Lyrical passages in the first movement were beautifully unhurried; the elfin scherzo perked along delectably; the finale really crackled (the last moments could have used even more drive).
Adding a crowd-pleasing quotient of star power, Itzhak Perlman was the soloist in Barber's rhapsodic Violin Concerto. The performance had its vintage Perlman touches - gleaming tone, compelling phrasing - and moments when his technique sounded less distinguished, but the playing always communicated. Other than a raw oboe, the orchestra backed the violinist warmly under Slatkin's sensitive guidance.
The concert repeats at 1:30 today at the Kennedy Center, Virginia and New Hampshire avenues, N.W., Washington. For tickets, call 202-467-4600.