Dallas — It was an oddly programmed Dallas Symphony concert. Joaquín Rodrigo’s modest and elegant Concierto de Aranjuez for the soft-spoken guitar and orchestra was paired with Caesar Franck’s monumental Wagnerian-influenced and French-perfumed Symphony in D Minor. Ravel’s colorful Rapsodie espagnole opened the program—for a lack of anywhere else to stick it.
Guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier offered DSO audiences, gathered in the Meyerson Symphony Center on Thursday evening, a complete contrast to the controlling Jaap van Zweden: perhaps too much so. As opposed to conducting every hemi-demi-semi-quaver, Tortelier conducted he flow of the music in broad sweeping motions. There were times when a few crisp beats would have helped, but letting the music flow on its own, and allowing the orchestra, to play was refreshing.
The Ravel came off the best. This early work lacks the flashing colors of his later masterpieces but all his technical orchestration prowess is present. Tortelier gave it lots of space, sometimes sacrificing precision to the larger goal of sweep.
Pepe Romero is a superstar of he guitar world. His performance of the Rodrigo was precise and stylishly correct. The problem, which was commented on in a review of his February recital with Allegro Guitar, is his lack of connection to the audience. This is the difference between attending a concert and buying a recording. If you went to see Romero, you were disappointed. If you went to hear him, you were elated.
As an encore, he played a piece by an even more legendary guitarist, his father. Here, Romero was much more involved. It was not a great piece of music, but it ably showed off his capabilities and offered some virtuoso licks. It also demonstrated some alternate ways of using the instrument, such as tapping on the side and different kinds of strums. Romero tossed it off with more freedom than he apparently thought was appropriate for the concerto.
The Franck symphony moves at the pace of the tectonic plates, even in the best of performances. Tortelier took an even more expansive view than usual. Even though the tempi were not really all that much slower that usual, it felt like they were.
On the plus side, Tortelier brought out the pipe organ origin of the orchestration. Franck, like all of his contemporaries of the French school of composition at the time, was a renowned organist. He uses the choirs of the orchestra like they are stops on the organ, adding them in groups of like instruments.
This approach, in general, worked quite well in this performance. The error Tortelier made was in using the Trumpet en chamade instead of the trumpet stop on the great. And, like this raucous stop on many a romantic era organ, the trumpets (and occasionally the other brass) blared out in the big moments. Also, some of the too frequently exaggerated big moments, like the end of the first movement in particular, sounded almost comically triumphant in such a dark symphony. It is hard to believe that it was the use of the English horn for the gorgeous solo that caused such an uproar at the work's premiere. Maybe they just needed to hear the DSO hornist perform it.