In substituting for the ailing Stanisław Skrowaczewski this week on a singularly demanding program of Lutosławski, Mozart, and Brahms, new Dallas Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductor Ruth Reinhardt had a proverbial trial by fire. It was a trial from which, in her debut with the DSO, she emerged largely unscathed, as did the orchestra. Not only is Reinhardt conducting this weekend’s concerts, but she also prepared the symphony. This is quite a feat, especially considering the widely varied program and the short notice with which she had to work.
Witold Lutosławski’s fiendishly difficult 1954 Concerto for Orchestra uses a musical language reminiscent of Bartók or perhaps Stravinsky: the Concerto for Orchestra incorporates folk tunes, in this case from the Polish Kurpie region, within a modernist musical landscape. While its scope and difficulty should give any orchestra pause, there are some thrilling moments of drama and beauty in this piece.
The DSO mostly navigated this landscape with skill. There were a few quibbles to be made. The ensemble was not as meticulous as we have been accustomed to hearing from the orchestra of late—they might have benefitted from the experience of the Polish conductor and composer Skrowaczewski, who is in his 90s and has no doubt conducted this music of his homeland many times. Still, Reinhardt managed a difficult task well.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major fared slightly less well. The DSO always seems to struggle a bit with Mozart, and Thursday’s performance was no exception. Piano soloist Francesco Piemontesi was brilliant, playing with sensitivity and grace. The orchestra had some equally fine moments, but overall was a bit too heavy-handed, with some overly aggressive attacks in the violins especially problematic.
Last on the program was Brahms’ last symphony, the No. 4 in E minor. Reinhardt began the performance while audience members were still returning to their seats after intermission. That awkwardness aside, she was truly in her element here. Conducting with sometimes exaggerated gestures but clear downbeats and cues, she whisked the orchestra through a very good performance.
There were still a few ensemble problems, but Reinhardt seemed to have coherent musical ideas that she ably assisted the orchestra in executing. The third movement, marked Allegro giocoso, and indeed the only true scherzo in any of Brahms’ symphonies, was appropriately lighthearted, followed abruptly by the truly dark fourth movement. This is the only one of Brahms’ four symphonies that ends in a minor key, and yet somehow Reinhardt made the melancholy minor sound like her triumph.