Dallas — On Thursday evening at the Meyerson Symphony Center, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra made another, equally spectacular, trip through a suite of selections from Prokofiev’s wondrous ballet Romeo and Juliet. We just heard this music two weeks ago at the symphony’s Gala, although Thursday’s performance added a few more selections.
The program opened with John Adams' Lollapalooza, nine minutes of exciting orchestral sonic exploration. As with most minimalist works, it is repetitive by design and thus feels like it reels out in a continuous flow of rhythmic harmony. It also feels like it could end at any point and thus feels longer than it is.
The second selection on the program was Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E Flat Major. This is a delightful piece and one of the few concerti for the instrument that gets performances. This is because there is a dearth of concerti for the instrument although contemporary composers have been writing some new ones.
Haydn wrote this concerto to make use of a new and improved instrument. The natural trumpet could only play melodic material in the upper range, such as you hear in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. Haydn was writing for a newly invented trumpet with keys (which eventually became the familiar valves) that allowed it to play melodic material throughout its range.
Principal trumpet Ryan Anthony took full advantage of the modern trumpet, playing with remarkable evenness of tone and precise intonation. The cadenzas that he played added a more modern display of virtuosity than Haydn could have imagined, but were still in the spirit of the piece. Ryan gave this familiar concerto a bright and refreshed performance, playing it with very Haydn-esque enjoyment.
Prokofiev put together three Romeo and Juliet orchestral suites from his ballet, but Musical Director Jaap van Zweden cobbled his own suite together with selections from the three of them. But whatever selections you use and no matter how often it is programmed, although two weeks is a bit short, it is always pleasure to hear.
Prokofiev’s score is written for an exceptionally large orchestra with an expanded brass and percussion section. He also uses a tenor saxophone, which rarely appears in symphonic scores. In 1928, Ravel used the saxophone in Boléro, so it was not a completely new idea in 1935, when Prokofiev wrote Romeo and Juliet.
An aside: The saxophone was invented by Adolphe Sax in 1840 to fill what he saw as a missing link between the woodwind and brass section. It is made out of brass but uses a single reed similar to a clarinet. He designed an entire family of such instruments and named them after human voices. The most common ones are the soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass. However, there are nine different saxophones that expand the above quartet: the sopranissimo and sopranino on top and contrabass and subconrtrabass on the bottom.
In some ways, van Zweden’s performance of the music from Romeo and Juliet on Thursday evening was superior to the earlier one at the Gala. Right from the assault of the ominous opening fortissimo chords, the performance was better paced and the dynamics were more carefully scaled. At the Gala, van Zweden reached maximum volume levels long before the dramatic ending, blunting its impact. Not so on Thursday. Perhaps this was because he added some additional sections that were not included at the Gala, which made for a more substantial piece.
However, like in the Gala performance, the scherzo-like section, “The Young Girl Juliet,” was much too fast. Admittedly, it was quite amazing to hear the virtuosity of the violins playing the section at such a breakneck pace but, at such a fast pace, the music lost its feel of joyous youthful exuberance and became a hectic blur.
That aside, the orchestra gave the suite a magnificent performance. Prokofiev gives the principal players some terrific solo passages and they were all exceptionally played, both at the Gala and again in Thursday. Gregory Raden (clarinet), Erin Hannigan (oboe) and Theodore Soluri (bassoon) were excellent as always. The DSO currently has a vacancy in the principal flute chair, ably filled on a temporary basis, by Matthew Roitstein, who is on loan from the Houston Symphony. The aforementioned saxophone part was beautifully played by Tim Roberts. Principal horn David Cooper and the expanded horn section were also standouts. The audience gave the performance a spontaneous and well-deserved standing ovation.