Dallas — This weekend’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra concerts feature what has become a frequent programming mix for area orchestras: a short contemporary piece, followed by a well-known 19th-century concerto and symphony.
Still, though this programming is well within the realm of the expected, there were still lots of surprises Thursday evening.
Pulitzer Pize-winning American composer Christopher Rouse’s Rapture began the program. Rouse is one of the wave of contemporary neo-romantic composers whose work is getting relatively frequent performances by U.S. orchestras. Rapture is highly tonal, and moves from subtlety to drama, with stirrings in the basses, brass, and percussion moving in waves of sound toward a ferocious climax of frantic string playing backed by brassy chords and a flurry of percussion, from tympani to triangle.
Of particular interest were the violin solos played by four musicians from, unconventionally, the back of the section. Two of those violinists were the striking Fort Worth Symphony’s first stand, Michael Shih and Swang Lin. This flavor of neo-romanticism is not for every listener, but it is more accessible than lots of “new music,” and thus is apt to get more performances than are thornier works.
Violinist Augustin Hadelich was next up, performing the near-ubiquitous Bruch Concerto in G Minor, Op. 26. Hadelich is a thirtysomething German violinist who is consistently an absolute delight to listen to. While I would have preferred that he play something a little less-frequently performed, especially since Hadelich is known as an enthusiastic proponent of contemporary music, his interpretation of the Bruch concerto featured enough novelty to make it sound fresh. Unusual, but perfectly justifiable, articulations and carefully thought out phrasing and dynamics were coupled with rock-solid technique for a new look at an old standby.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor is similarly an old standby, but one that allows the orchestra to be in the limelight. As per usual, Jaap van Zweden crafted each phrase meticulously, with careful attention to dynamics and other details. Tempi, though clearly carefully selected, created a less than satisfying effect. The fourth movement went at a breakneck speed. Although the orchestra achieved remarkable clarity at van Zweden’s tempo, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should—it was too hurried for my taste, without time for Tchaikovsky’s melodies to settle in with the listener. Conversely, the third movement, Tchaikovsky’s delightful pizzicato scherzo, lacked the lightheartedness, the sense of fun, that is so critical to this jokiest of scherzos, although the orchestra was deliciously precise. This is an orchestra at the top of its game, interpretive quibbles aside.