Dallas — Alexander Kerr is an outstanding concertmaster for the Dallas Symphony. His interpretation of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major Thursday night established his technical and musical chops as a soloist, too.
There was only one problem, though, and it was a big one: balance was so problematic as to render Kerr largely inaudible for extended passages in all three movements. While Kerr could have played out more, mitigating the problem somewhat, there’s a limit to the volume a string player can produce before it begins to have a negative effect on his tone. So the other solution is to turn the orchestra down. The large string sections are certainly appropriate to the time period of this modernist concerto, but are they really mandatory? Perhaps better to have slightly smaller sections, get those sections to back off a bit, and let Kerr’s light shine more fully.
If it was a strain to hear Kerr, it was worth the work. This is a fascinating concerto—it begins with a lyrical, Andantino movement, rather than the more traditional Allegro. The initial melody is marked “sognando,” or “dreamy.” Kerr demonstrated his ability to weave a beautiful melodic line here. It was the second, contrasting theme that was more problematic; it is intended to be more forceful, but that overbalance problem interfered. Prokofiev reportedly said of this section, “Play it as though you’re trying to convince someone of something.” Kerr does have remarkably resonant pizzicato; the pizzicato passage in this movement was one of the few times when the balance was very nearly perfect.
The second movement, marked Scherzo; Vivacissimo showcases the violinist’s technical chops. Kerr is a fabulous, virtuosic vehicle for its brilliance, but again, sometimes that brilliance disappeared into the fabric of the orchestra. In the final movement, Prokofiev turns again to lyricism, and again, the beauty of Kerr’s playing was evident, but there simply wasn’t enough projection, even given the delicacy of this concerto.
Conductor Jaap van Zweden brought out an even larger orchestra for Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major (the key of the evening, evidently). The orchestra was at its best for this performance, with brilliant ensemble and meticulous yet intense playing. String playing in particular was outstanding. The first movement proceeded at a bit faster clip than we may be accustomed to hearing, interfering a bit with the tranquil mood of the movement, but on the whole, Jaap van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra do Brahms about as well as anyone can. The triumphant, brass-heavy end of the fourth and final movement was truly thrilling.