Dallas — There is a pair of diametrically unmatched Wolfgangs at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra this weekend and not just because of the 250 or so years that separate them. Composer Wolfgang Rihm's Trio Concerto for violin, piano and cello is as dense as Mozart’s Requiem is clear. Perhaps Music Director Jaap van Zweden was thinking that a trio concerto is a very classical form and thus would fit well with the Mozart. While that is true, Rihm’s solid wall of dissonant complexity is probably not the most appropriate amuse-bouche for Mozart’s divinely moving, even though left unfinished, final statement to the world.
Rihm’s nearly 400 compositions cover an incredible range of styles—from simplistic neo-harmony to wildly complex and highly dissonant music that owes a lot to the Second Viennese School or the Serialists. This piece, receiving its American premiere with the DSO, leans to the latter and was difficult to digest on one hearing. A study of the score before hearing it again would surely produce a different opinion because its onslaught was too much to take in unprepared.
A note: In a recent trip to Boston, a group of critics heard the world premiere of Michael Gandolfi’s Ascending Light, a concerto for organ and large orchestra. The BSO furnished each of the critics with a score well in advance of the performance. What a difference this made! It is patently unfair to both critic and composer to ask for publically published opinions of a new work after hearing it cold. The more complex the work, the more difficult the task. Why is this not standard procedure?
In Rihm’s piece, the violin and the cello were paired throughout, with motifs tossed back and forth and sometimes soaring on a reaching melody in unison or at octaves. The pianist felt like the odd man out, vying for attention to get a word in edgewise with crashing clusters, complex chords and, as if in frustration, a series of very loud glissandi. The Mozart-sized orchestra was thickly scored, mostly occupying the same harmonic range as the soloists, leaving little room for them to sound through. Maybe some more rehearsal time, which is always in short supply, would have thinned out the orchestra by layering the dynamics more carefully. As it was, most of the work was a solid churning wall of sound with events swirling by now and then.
All that said, Rihm’s trio is an exciting piece and definitely worth another hearing. The three soloists—violinist Ulf Schneider, cellist Martin Löhr and pianist Eckart Heiligers—make up the Trio Jean Paul and they did a heroic job of bringing the piece to life.
Mozart’s Requiem is a flawed masterpiece in that the composer left it unfinished at his death. It was finished by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, working from completed fragments and scattered sketches. There have been other efforts to finish the Requiem, including some that adjust the orchestration and others that do some significant extrapolations.
The magnificence of this work is hard to describe and has to be experienced. In fact, each time you hear it you are amazed all over again. Van Zweden gave the piece a carefully controlled performance that served the music well. Even though the DSO and the Dallas Symphony Chorus were both reduced, a further reduction might have been more effective. However, the Meyerson Symphony Center is a large hall and perhaps using a smaller force might not have worked as well. We will never know.
The four soloists were not the usual matched quartet of voices. All four were quite different, but the combination worked to great effect. There was never a doubt which one was singing, which can be the case with more closely matched, traditional Mozartian voices that are often used in the concert pieces. Anyone familiar with his operas knows that he loved pairing different vocal sounds.
Soprano Joélle Harvey supplied the lightest, more lyric, voice of the group. She rarely exceeded a modest forte and floated most of her solos. Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong displayed a dark and sonorous richness that would serve her well in Verdi. Another Verdian sound belonged to tenor Joseph Kaiser. He was the least Mozartian of the four, adding some Italian sauce, but his sound was bright and musically solid. In the company of three singers with bright forward placement, Evan Boyer’s bass was overly covered and sounded withheld.
For some reason, van Zweden didn’t let the Requiem have the final word. He added Mozart’s Ave verum corpus as a hushed “amen,” going directly into this lovely choral piece without a pause. While it was a treat to hear it so beautifully sung, it was an unnecessary intrusion.