Fort Worth—Adventure certainly was not the intention of Friday’s Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra program at Bass Performance Hall. Die Fledermaus overture paired with Rodrigo’s ever popular Concierto de Aranjuez balanced a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The trio of works begs to capitalize on the Valentine’s Day weekend festivities. But any young lad attempting to impress his date with a cultured musical experience had to make do with readings of works that did not display this orchestra’s full potential for transformative experience.
Had Johann Strauss II lived just a few months longer, we could say that the program at least contained works by composers who were alive during the 20th century. But ideologically, all the works performed are firmly rooted in musical Romanticism. Perhaps this was a safe and prudent choice considering the likely constituency of the evening.
Die Fledermaus is a work that rarely needs performing. In a way, it has the same appeal as watching the longhorn cattle lumber their way through the Fort Worth Stockyards; it is fantastic to see the first few times, but it quickly becomes the thing you do only when entertaining guests from Connecticut. This not-so-subtle appeal to the casual concert goer expecting to hear “The Symphony” in the most generic sense was successful in fulfilling that need.
Now that the obligatory reproach of the music critic on programing has been voiced, we can examine the best part of the evening: the performance.
The Rodrigo was a surprising joy to hear. As often as it is performed, Spanish guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas avoided many of the clichés associated with the piece. His playing was not polished to the point of boredom but was a demonstration of understanding the work’s underlying emotional temperature. It was never quite boiling no matter how much we wanted it to boil. Perfect because it created a drama of pathos. The guitar is at a natural disadvantage acoustically when comes to being heard in a large space backed by orchestral forces. Villegas’ technique allowed him to maintain great clarity while projecting a welcoming variety of colors. He had stamina enough to give a rousing encore performance of Francisco Tárrega’s Jota.
Miguel Harth-Bedoya is, in spite of his visual excesses, an intellectual musician capable of exquisite control and structural planning. This was on display in the headline work, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet suite. Rather than one of the usual extracted suites, we heard selections which raised a couple of interesting challenges in pacing the work as a cohesive whole. Harth-Bedoya led the listener through a variety of meaningful timbre and dynamic changes which made the piece go by quickly. Several emotional “false summits” were handled with great skill, not causing exhaustion by listening to too much loud sound. "The Death of Tybalt," which could have ended the selections was left unresolved and forced the listener to expect the two movements which followed. The orchestra was never pushed beyond the breaking point—a typical occurrence during many a performance of this work.
While FWSO President and CEO Amy Adkins announced from the stage before the concert a number of familiar classics slated for the 2015-2016 season, I was simply thrilled to find in the printed season brochure works by visiting composers Adam Schoenberg, Mason Bates, and Cindy McTee among a healthy sprinkling of lesser known works. It is not a wonder the line for the subscriptions table filled the lobby during intermission.