Christoph Eschenbach is fiercely loyal to a cadre of musicians he has discovered, mentored and partnered with over the years. It’s customary to roll one’s eyes a bit when discussing such blind loyalty, particularly when some of the musicians don’t hit the mark, at least as conventional wisdom sees it.
It’s especially customary to roll one’s eyes when discussing it in reference to pianist Tzimon Barto. In the classical music world, Barto is known as a flamboyant bodybuilder given to extreme mannerisms while playing and to extravagant gestures while not, such as when he recites his poetry onstage before his encore.
But Thursday night with the National Symphony Orchestra, the only extreme thing onstage with Barto was Bartok’s second piano concerto, a fiendishly difficult piece that Barto, looking positively restrained in a standard-
issue tux, played as if it were no problem at all.
As for the encore, it was the same piece Barto offered in Philadelphia, minus the poem — just a quiet, taut performance of the middle movement of the Bach’s keyboard concerto in F minor, BWV 1056.