When Christoph Eschenbach and the National Symphony Orchestra convened for Thursday night’s concert, the guest of honor was absent.
Lang Lang, in the middle of his week-long residency with the orchestra, is playing a different Beethoven concerto with them every night — the Second on Thursday, the Third on Friday and the Fifth on Saturday. But due to atrocious traffic in downtown D.C. (ask me how I know), Lang Lang was unable to leave his hotel until after the concert was scheduled to start. The NSO therefore rejiggered its program so that Strauss’s “Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche” and Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony were played together as the first half, and Lang Lang’s Beethoven was in the second.
It was kind of refreshing to vary the standard concert formula by having the orchestra course served first. And Eschenbach’s Strauss and Dvorak had very similar flavors. “Till Eulenspiegels” began a bit muddily — with the solo horn sounding slightly tentative — but soon found its way into a vivid account of the story’s various episodes, culminating in floor-shaking, dark, ominous chords at the gallows scene (Till, a peasant folk hero, is hanged) that transcended the Gothic aspects of the story.