Fort Worth — “Fun, fun and more run,” Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya exclaimed before launching the Fort Worth Symphony into Haydn’s delightful “London” symphony (No. 104 in D Major) on Saturday night at Bass Performance Hall, in the first of two performances in the final year of the FWSO’s Classical Masters Festival. (The first night, Friday, featured an outdoor screening of the film Amadeus.)
After the stately introduction, the first movement’s quick tempo added a daredevil touch to all the promised fun. Such transitional moments, slow introductions to lively first sections, are always difficult ensemble-wise. But Harth-Bedoya solidified his tempo after a few scary measures and the movement successfully chattered onward (albeit a bit too fast).
The entire symphony is filled with Haydn’s trademark joie de vivre and musical jokes abound, such as the abrupt cutoff just when things are picking up steam. Harth-Bedoya played his assigned melodramatic cutoff with appropriate èlan. Unfortunately, he played the passage identically each time it occurred, much like telling the same joke over and over. Stop me if you have heard this one.
The second movement was quite lovely, played with gentleness, and shaped by Harth-Bedoya’s instinctive gift for phrasing. The loud section was too loud, which sounded out of context, and a few ensemble snafus marred what was an otherwise excellent reading of the movement.
The highlight of the third movement is its peasant dance quality. Harth-Bedoya made hay with the hemiola (see note below) section, appearing to conduct both two and three beats simultaneously.
Note: Hemiola is when the composer moves the ascent within the bar, so instead of 1 2 3, we get 1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2 3. Brahms also loved the effect and used it frequently.
The finale retains the peasant dance quality of the presiding movement. However, as before, a slightly slower tempo would have made it sound more rustically authentic, but Harth-Bedoya galloped to a spirited ending. This was appreciated by the audience.
The highlight of the concert opened the second half: Mozart’s rarely heard Concerto for Flute and Harp in G major. The ever-entertaining Shields-Collin Bray, who shared emcee duties with the Maestro, related that Mozart was never paid for writing this concerto. Money was always a problem for the composer, a freelancer eschewing the steady, but restricting, life in a permanent post under royal patronage. (Accounts receivable is especially difficult with a non-profit performing arts organization’s down-to-the-penny budgeting, even for a pioneer such as the astonishing Mozart.)
This was also our first opportunity to hear the newly appointed principal flute, Jake Fridkis, in a solo work—and he exceeded all expectations. His clear and silvery tone, always immaculately in tune, retained focus throughout the registers with never a hint of breathiness, even in the lowest notes. His musicianship is superb and he remains fully engaged in he performance even when he doesn’t have any notes to play.
An aside: While this sounds self-evident, few musicians can stay in the moment while counting measures until their next entry. Au contraire, Fridkis’ performance is reminiscent of a relay race because of the critical handoff of the baton.
Guest harpist, Maria Luisa Rayan, formed an instant musical bond with Fridkis that served the concerto well. By the way, she played on a new harp donated to the orchestra by Mercedes Bass.
The two soloists, greatly assisted by Harth-Bedoya, delivered a memorable performance. Mozart’s music usually reflects his ability with the form of opera, and so it is here. The second movement is especially lovely and Fridkis used a singer’s phrasing as he spun out Mozart’s operatic phrases. The cheery rondo that brings the concerto to a bouncy ending felicitated a warm reception from the audience.
The program ended with Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory, Op. 91. This is an odd piece, to be sure. Harth-Bedoya called it “a thing.” Indeed, it is more defined by what it is not than what it is. The closest definition might be tone poem since it is descriptive of actual events.
The battle between the French and English takes place backstage between two rival bands rather than armies. (An idea that is worth exploring in politics today.) We never see the rival bands but we do hear them clash and their cannons boom. The two sides were played by some outstanding musicians from local high schools that filled the stage at the end to accept a well-deserved bow.
Harth-Bedoya played the piece for all the drama he could muster, even waving two flags à la Les Misérables. This work is odd, but it is enjoyable to hear on occasion. But no matter how good a performance it receives, Wellington’s Victory remains a tacky piece, like gaudy costume jewelry.
Fun, fun, fun indeed.
» Go here to see our review of the Aug. 27 concert in the Classical Masters Festival