Fort Worth — Finesse and subtlety reigned Sunday afternoon at Bass Performance Hall as the Fort Worth Symphony and music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya presented the second concert of the orchestra’s season-opening Classical Masters Festival.
In this case, the term “classical” is used in its narrower sense, to refer specifically to the music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and their lesser contemporaries; this is the music in many ways at the heart of the larger “classical” repertoire, and it presents both rewards and challenges in the modern concert hall. At Sunday afternoon’s concert, the former far outweighed the latter.
Though the concert was a satisfying event from beginning to end, guest soloist Adam Golka’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 provided a glowing centerpiece to the program. Now one of the most prominent rising stars on the classical concert scene, Golka spent his formative years in Fort Worth as a protégé of the late José Feghali. That mentorship shaped, in Golka, a pianist whose natural instincts and devotion to the piano were carefully nurtured not only in the obvious elements of music-making but on an intellectual level as well, with a patient, carefully managed and non-exploitative transition from student to active performer. The results were obvious Sunday afternoon when Golka stepped on stage with a striking air of command and presence of a seasoned artist.
Mozart’s Concerto No. 27 is by no means a showpiece, but Golka, with worthy collaboration from conductor Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra, produced a performance in which every moment gripped the audience in its sheer beauty and insight. The first movement demands smoothly sustained, stretched melodic lines in both orchestra and piano, as well as a keen sense of timing; in this performance, the sometimes-surprising shifts of tonality Mozart provided became magical. The middle movement presented a conversation between the soloist and orchestra in which the piano spoke with lean simplicity, answered by glowing resonance in the orchestra. The mood shifted slightly again for the finale, a serenely joyful affirmation of life.
This largely serious, almost philosophical statement from Mozart had been preceded by one of the most blatantly comical products of the classical era, the “Toy” Symphony—a work attributed to Franz Joseph Haydn in the program but possibly written by any of a number of contemporaneous composers. This particular work includes a smooth, almost bland backdrop of strings to accompany an entourage of toy horns, drums, birdcalls, and ratchets, provided in this case by an ensemble made up of members of the orchestra’s administrative staff. Dressed in bright tee-shirts and funny hats, these faithful behind-the-scene workers stepped into the spotlight, supplementing their comically awkward musical rendition with episodes of cellphone conversation and pretended drunkenness. All involved did their parts nicely, proving that even in the 18th century, folks appreciated a good joke and a heavy dose of nonsense now and then.
Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony closed the afternoon; like the Mozart Concerto that preceded, this is a work of subtlety rather than bombast. Once again, Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra found the perfect balance to communicate classical restraint as well and the proto-romanticism of this work. Here, the throbbing momentum of the third movement—the most nearly romantic portion of this work—provided the most memorable moment.
Although this listener is usually a little impatient with onstage conversation and commentary, this practice seems to have become an integral part of concerts for the Fort Worth Symphony; in this case, the easy conversational banter of Harth-Bedoya and Shields-Collins Bray (the orchestra’s resident keyboard player) proved engaging and informative, particularly in providing information concerning the cadenzas of the Mozart concerto as well as the choice of a Hamburg Steinway piano, with its mellow resonance, for the performance.
In summary, after one of the most troubled years in the orchestra’s history during the 2016-17 season, the ensemble and music director are clearly poised to return to a high level for the 2017-18.
» Go here to see our review of the Aug. 26 concert in the Classical Masters Festival