Hélène Grimaud

Review: Ravel Piano Concerto | Dallas Symphony Orchestra | Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

On the Horn

Pianist Hélène Grimaud plays a lovely Ravel for the Dallas Symphony, but the real star is the DSO, and those horns, on Mahler's Symphony No. 1.

published Saturday, October 3, 2015

Photo: Mat Hennek
Hélène Grimaud

Dallas — If you don’t have plans for the rest of this weekend, go hear the Dallas Symphony. If you do have plans, change them and go anyway. Thursday evening’s performance was that good.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major, under Jaap Van Zweden’s baton, was thrilling. Tempi were just right, balance was flawless, and the playing—oh, the playing. Van Zweden wisely acknowledged all of the many soloists, from violin to triangle. Each deserved acclaim.

Near the end of the final movement, the eight (eight!) horns famously stand up, turn their bells up, and just go for it—Mahler wrote that they should make the greatest possible noise. It’s one of the most exciting moments in orchestral music, but when those horns are the horns of the DSO, led by the redoubtable David Cooper, it’s awe-inspiring; a sonic bath of amazingness.

Other glorious moments: the “Frère Jacques” theme at the beginning of the fourth movement, initially provided by Principal Bass Nicolas Tsolainos. (If you’re thinking, “No, that’s the third movement,” I’ll explain in a moment.) Bassists rarely get the opportunity for solo turns, so to hear Tsolainos’s skill in crafting a melodic line and producing a full, delicious tone was a rare treat. The offstage trumpets at the beginning of the first movement created just the right atmosphere. Erin Hannigan, Principal Oboe, and Gregory Raden, Principal Clarinet, were spot-on throughout. Most especially, though, Principal Bassoon Wilfred Roberts, who is retiring after this weekend’s concerts and 50 years with the symphony, still has one of the richest, most supple bassoon sounds I have ever heard. May his retirement bring him as much joy as his playing has brought the rest of us.

This performance was a quirky one in that it included the original second movement, the “Blumine,” which Mahler himself excised in 1894, about six years after he composed the symphony. My first impression, having never heard a performance including the “Blumine,” or “Flower” movement, is that Mahler was correct to take it out. It is lovely, yes, but does not fit with the character of the rest of the music, much of which is deliberately unlovely. In fairness, though, it may be that it just feels unfamiliar—an extra figure painted in “Guernica,” or an extra spire on the Chartres Cathedral. Had it always been there, it would seem as though it never could have been any other way, but added, it seems unnecessary, even grotesque.

The first half of the program consisted of Hélène Grimaud’s performance of Ravel’s delightful Piano Concerto in G major. With the opening “Pop!” of the slapstick, Ravel propels us into the Jazz Age. The first movement, especially, is a sort of love child of Gershwin’s “American in Paris” and French Impressionism—and under Grimaud’s confident hands, it was a bright, charming child indeed. The second movement, marked Adagio assai, was a wonder. The simple theme can seem rote and mechanized when performed by a lesser player, but Grimaud’s phrasing was exquisite, and she caressed each note with loving care. English horn player David Matthews’s extended solo was a thing of wonder and beauty, floating out over the audience with ethereal grace. Tempi were a bit frantic in the last movement—“presto” doesn’t mean “play as fast as one can.” But the strings especially handled the trickiest passages at this tempo with élan.

This is one of the can’t-miss concerts of the season. Every single section of the orchestra sounds world-class these days. Grimaud’s many curtain calls were well justified, and the program is fantastic. Those HORNS in the Mahler are worth the price of admission. You may never hear better. Thanks For Reading

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On the Horn
Pianist Hélène Grimaud plays a lovely Ravel for the Dallas Symphony, but the real star is the DSO, and those horns, on Mahler's Symphony No. 1.
by J. Robin Coffelt

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