Fort Worth — The Fort Worth Symphony presented a conservative program last weekend. We heard Carl Maria von Weber’s overture to his pre-Wagner opera Der Freischütz, followed by Édouard Lalo’s rarely heard Cello Concerto in D minor. The second half presented Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61. The cellist was Adolfo Gutiérrez Arenas, a young firebrand from Madrid.
The Lalo is a strangely passive piece for a concerto, which is supposed to be great music but also show off the abilities of the soloist. It is not that it lacks virtuoso passages or that the music is inferior, it is just not a thrilling piece for no reason in particular. This is why it isn’t played more often, one supposes. It had a heyday a while back when Jacqueline du Pré championed it, but in all my decades of concert-going, this is the first time I have heard a live performance.
Arenas gave it more than a fair chance to impress. He is a fine cellist with smoldering good looks toped off with a head of shaggy curly hair. Even better, there is nothing of the showman about his businesslike playing. No gazing off into private Elysian Fields or dramatic bow releases. The word that came to mind as he played: “aristocratic.”
He was expressive without being overwrought and technically secure. His sound was rich but didn’t project as well as you might expect it to do, judging from the sound quality. (This could have been caused by the location of my seat.) His performance was a hit with the audience and the orchestra members as well. He played an encore: a selection from Bach’s first cello suite.
Weber’s potpourri overture is a concert staple and always whips up a sonic storm. The horn section got it off to a good start—this opening is world famous for this treacherous horn ensemble opening. Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya set excellent tempi; quicksilver but not rushed. He also kept the story of the opera in mind and the performance had the shadow of impending disaster hang over even the cherry parts. The brass was too loud throughout, but whatcha gonna do?
Weber loved the clarinet: he wrote a lot of solo music for the instrument, and he features it in the slow part of this overture. The FWSO, and the DSO for that matter, are greatly blessed in the clarinet department. FWSO principal clarinetist Ana Victoria Luperi was marvelous in her extended solo.
Schumann’s four symphonies are heard occasionally in concert halls but they are not regulars, which is too bad. They hold many treasures and lots of terrific music. The fact that the composer over orchestrated them and thickened the texture with lots of doublings makes them difficult to balance. This also means that they lack color in the sound of the orchestra. Harth-Bedoya overcame this by setting some brisk, but acceptable, tempi.
Harth-Bedoya overplayed the ending of the first movement enough so that it elicited applause (but this frequently happens). A little less excitement would tell the audience that there was more to come.
The second movement flew like lightening and the first violins did an excellent job with the scampering passages. There was a lot of lyrical beauty in the slow movement and the last movement had the right amount of Teutonic stature to keep it dignified, without slowing it down.
All in all, it was an elegant evening of music. What was missing from the program was fireworks.