Dallas — Claus Peter Flor returned to the Dallas Symphony and Meyerson Symphony Center on Thursday after nearly a decade of absence, leading an odd concert with some disasters and some glories.
Flor was the principal guest conductor back then and delivered some memorable concerts. Thus, there was an air of anticipation when he took the podium to conduct a program of works by two Richards: Wagner and Strauss.
The program opened and closed with two of Wagner’s best-known opera overtures: Tannhäuser and Meistersinger. Strauss was in the middle with his Four Last Songs and the tone poem Death and Transfiguration. Overall, Flor got some thrilling music out of the orchestra even if he hit triple forte too many times, which blunted the impact of the really big moment in each piece.
Tannhäuser started off in a slow tempo. It felt like he wanted it to go faster but couldn’t communicate that to the orchestra with his expansive beat pattern; smaller ones are much more communicative. Balance was acceptable, but he completely covered the famous scales in the violins at the end. It really didn’t matter much because the tempo was too fast, and it is doubtful that even our magnificent string section could have played this difficult passage as written.
The performance of the Tannhäuser ended in chaos. On Thursday it fell apart in the last measures and happened so quickly that I am fuzzy on the details but an error by one player led to a group stumble to the last measure. It was suddenly over, and the orchestra looked stunned. But mistakes happen and that is the glory of a live performance.
The Meistersinger overture fared much better as a program closer. It was too loud much of the time so Wagner’s subtleties, which he employs to keep the repetitive parts of the music from sounding like a rondo, were glossed over.
The Strauss songs were gorgeous and the highlight of the evening. It would have been the highlight of any concert. Soprano Aga Mikolaj delivered a beautiful sound throughout. She has the perfect voice for this music: gleaming, dark and bright at the same time, even from top to bottom, and very flexible. In fact, she sang the low notes in her middle voice, not resorting to the more raucous chest voice, as we so often hear.
Death and Transfiguration, which followed, is a truly magnificent piece. It describes the thoughts of a dying man in his last moments, remembering his triumphs and disappointments. There is a moment in which Strauss depicts the soul leaving the body and this is followed by some of the most exquisite music ever written. It is one long crescendo that builds to a shattering climax on the resolution of a non-harmonic note and then you hear the essence of the music echo away into the ether. An interesting sidelight is that when Strauss was dying he said it was exactly like he wrote in Death and Transfiguration. I hope to hear it myself when my time comes.
Flor did a fine job with this piece. The only quibbles are that he didn’t ritard and decrescendo the moment of the soul’s retreat so we would know what the music describes. Also, he reached tutte forza too early at the end. Thus, there was nowhere to go dynamically right when it was needed most.
All of these things will surely repair themselves in subsequent performances. But even with these few peccadillos, it was a fine concert that featured the superb solo players in the orchestra.
» The last performance is at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St., Dallas. $19 to $152. 214-849-4376, www.mydso.com. There isn’t al Saturday performance this time.