Fort Worth — After weeks of contract negotiations, the threat of strike, and tension all around, this weekend’s Fort Worth Symphony program of Italian and Italian-inspired music was pure, sunny relief from all the drama. I was concerned that the distraction of proposed pay cuts and related indignities might distract the musicians, but they were in fine form, beginning the program with a sprightly rendition of Rossini’s Overture to L’italiana in Algeri.
The centerpiece of the program was Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, with soloist Caroline Goulding. Paganini wrote six violin concerti, but the first is played far more frequently than any of the others. Unlike, say, the Brahms concerto, or the Beethoven, Paganini’s violin concertos do not require much musical substance—just a ton of technique. Goulding, still in her early 20s, has technique to burn. Her intonation was almost impeccable, her facility was impressive, and in all likelihood she hasn’t even had to sell her soul to the devil to play so well, as Paganini himself was rumored to have done. I want to hear her again in a few years, playing something that requires soul as well as skill.
Just two things need attention, and neither concerns her sound: I’d like to see her play from memory rather than relying on sheet music—it’s a crutch. And in the long orchestral introduction, Goulding looked distinctly uncomfortable, standing in front of the orchestra in her red satin dress. She needs to figure out something to do so that she doesn’t look like me at a junior high dance, awkward and uncertain. When she began to play, she transformed into a dynamo.
Guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger ended the evening’s performance not with another work by an Italian composer, but rather one inspired by Italy: Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 Op. 90, “Italian.” Mendelssohn wrote his sister Fanny that the symphony “will be the jolliest piece I have ever done.” The Fort Worth Symphony under the baton of Lehninger produced a jolly performance indeed. The strings sounded especially clean in the first and second movements, while the horns shone in the third movement. Even when Lehninger ceased to provide a conducting pattern for several bars at a stretch in the speedy fourth movement, the orchestra maintained rigorous tempo and ensemble. An abrupt accelerando at the end of the fourth movement detracted from the usual drama of the ending, but it was a small quibble within an otherwise sprightly performance.
The Fort Worth Symphony is an important part of Cowtown culture, and it needs our support as it navigates this tumultuous time in its history. The orchestra is still providing fine music for its audiences. What can its audiences do for the orchestra?