Fort Worth — The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra continued its Classical Masters Festival on Saturday at Bass Hall with a concert offering an illuminating sampling of works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the featured composers in this three-concert tribute to the Classical Era.
Under the baton of music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the evening opened with a sinfonia from Haydn’s opera (yes, he wrote operas, too) L’isola disabitata (The Deserted Island). After a brief, somber opening, the piece galloped off into all sorts of imagined adventures. It was, by turns, jolting, dramatic, elegant, intense and jubilantly zippy. The eight-minute work, delivered by a brass-less ensemble, stood as a fine example of the writing of Haydn’s sturm und drang (storm and stress) period, when his naturally pristine style grew muscles.
Next up was Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 (“Turkish”), the final of the handful of works of this type that the composer debuted in 1775, at age 19. Saturday’s performance featuring Atlanta Symphony concertmaster David Coucheron only deepened the regret that the Salzburg wunderkind did not write more violin concertos. It would be great to hear what the Norwegian violinist might do with numbers six and beyond.
The pairing of orchestra and soloist did not, however, get off to a good start. Where Harth-Bedoya and his players took a highly respectful approach to the Classical framework of Mozart’s concerto, the 29-year-old soloist applied a legato-drenched sheen to his part that was almost Romantic in character. But, rather than creating a battle no one would win, Coucheron stuck just close enough to the script that the slight updating he brought to his contributions made for a pleasing contrast. The middle movement plodded a bit but, on the whole, it was impossible to resist the creamy, flowing tones Coucheron coaxed from his Stradivarius instrument, especially in his beautifully executed cadenzas.
The concert closed with a robust reading of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2. Where the Mozart had represented the be-wigged and brocaded zenith of the Classical style, this symphony stomped into the hall like a barbarian at the gate.
Harth-Bedoya’s reading of the piece honored the traditional foundation of the 1802 composition and its revolutionary spirit with equal aplomb. Where the orchestra had had a few stumbles in the Mozart, it was in full form for this concluding work. Especially pleasing was the third movement.
Harth-Bedoya, in remarks to the audience with symphony keyboardist Buddy Bray that went on bit too long, noted that one of the most tangible changes Beethoven brought to the table was that he replaced the third movement minuet (it was almost a law that Classical Era symphonies use that form for their tertiary sections) with a scherzo, a musical directive that comes from an Italian term for “joke.” On Saturday, that movement gleefully thumbed its nose at Papa Haydn and gave the work a swaggering personality that allowed it to strut into its game-changing final movement with the bold self-assurance of a young composer finding an exciting new voice.
Harth-Bedoya has said that he intends for this series of concerts, which are the first of a three-year cycle examining these composers, to teach the audience the origins of the symphonic form. This well-chosen program of works did that, while also providing plenty of exciting and entertaining musicianship.