Dallas — The Dallas Chamber Symphony’s concert Tuesday evening had some truly lovely moments. The soloists, violinist Chloé Trevor and pianist Kyle Orth, performed admirably. The orchestra, though, includes many high-caliber young musicians from around the DFW area, so it should be better than it is. While the orchestra’s playing was consistently competent, which is unfortunately not always the case with this group, it was still disappointingly banal. A more inspiring conductor might well instigate a livelier performance, but McKay doesn’t give his musicians much to work with. A left hand that mirrors the right rather than shaping phrases or providing cues is a problem.
This major lapse aside, there were lots of things to praise about Tuesday’s concert. The programming, while quirky, was intriguing: Ralph Vaughan-Williams’s lyrical showpiece for violin, “The Lark Ascending,” was first up, followed by Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 3, “The Camp Meeting,” to round out the first half. It is interesting to ponder that these two composers are almost exact contemporaries—Vaughan-Williams was born in 1872, while Ives was born just two years later—yet they could hardly be more different. Vaughan-Williams creates lush melodies, while Ives’ music is iconoclastic and angular. Contemplating each composer’s approach to programmatic music can keep the listener busy for a while.
Chloé Trevor, resplendent in a backless, sparkling periwinkle gown, ably navigated Vaughan-Williams’s romance for solo violin that ostensibly depicts a bird in flight. Her intonation was solid, her tone lovely, and her sound ample. Ideally, she could have used a more connected vibrato to help create the long lines that characterize this piece, but overall her performance was a triumph.
The orchestra, alas, often seemed soporific by comparison. The Ives suffered the same fate, without the rhythmic sense necessary to support Ives’s polyphony and without sufficient variability in tempo or dynamics.
The concerto that normally would have occupied the pre-intermission spot on the program was instead in the final slot, after intermission. Pianist Kyle Orth, winner of the 2014 Dallas International Piano Competition, performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor.
The Mozart proved a more successful endeavor than did the first half of the program.
Although more dramatic tension in the first movement would have been welcome, some of the rhythmic propulsion missing from the Ives was present here. Orth is a technically excellent pianist, but rushed through some first movement phrases. Balance overall was good—if anything, the piano overwhelmed the smallish orchestra in spots. Orth took the third movement at a fast clip—perhaps a bit too fast—but his pianism was expressive and his technical mastery of his instrument exact.
The Dallas Chamber Symphony definitely fills a gap in Metroplex musical offerings, so here’s hoping the ensemble continues to improve.