Dallas — It was a weirdly programmed concert with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 surrounded by rarely performed works. Familiar or not, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra with the former assistant conductor Ruth Reinhardt at the helm turned in excellent performances of these strange musical bedfellows all evening.
The concert was bookended with two 20th century works that were probably unfamiliar to the audience, and perhaps even to some of the musicians. The opener was Paul Hindemith's esoteric Konzertmusik (Concert Music) for String Orchestra and Brass and the closer was Zoltán Kodály's splashy Háry János Suite. However, the Most Rarely Heard prize has to go to Beethoven’s creaky King Stephen Overture.
German/American composer and violist Paul Hindemith’s work effectively contrasts soaring strings with bold brass. The two groups of instruments offer even more contrast when they hand off the musical material back and forth between them. Reinhardt whipped the DSO into a lather with this piece. Much of it was too loud but it was exciting and a good introduction to the distinctly original musical language of this unjustly ignored composer.
This piece is tricky to pull off because of the composer’s unique take on harmony. His style, which he invented, is basically tonal but not based on the familiar major and minor chords and he easily moves from consonance to dissonance and back again throughout this work. This presents intonation challenges, which the DSO conquered beautifully. Reinhardt let the music loose so that Hindemith’s long melodic flights could fly freely from strings to brass. She effectively led the audience through the composer’s individualistic take on neo-classical style so that the two movements became a single musical journey.
Kodály's Háry János Suite was compiled from his singspiel (an opera with spoken dialogue) by the same name. It tells the tale of a veteran soldier who regales everyone with unbelievable and grandiose tales of his supposed mighty feats. It is mostly remembered for its highly original musical language and for the anomaly that it begins with a musical recreation of a sneeze. This is because of an old Hungarian tradition that whatever is said after a sneeze has to be the truth. Of course, nothing that Háry János says is true so the sneeze is a marvelous musical joke and sets the mood for tons of tomfoolery.
Reinhardt was not as effective in this piece for reasons that were only partially her fault. Since the music was drawn from a much larger work, it is sectional in nature and thus difficult to pull together as a unified work architecturally. Much of it was too loud and it felt long, but Reinhardt brought out its inherent humor and even a touch of pathos.
The less said about Beethoven’s King Stephen Overture the better. It is not his best effort, but it was excellently presented by the DSO.
The middle of the concert brought us the sublime side of Beethoven, with his magnificent third piano concerto with French pianist David Fray at the keyboard. He and Reinhardt gave a consistently convincing performance with agreement between them as to tempo and rubato, including a more relaxed approach to the last movement. He has a sure technique that allowed him to play Beethoven’s difficult score with sensitivity and élan and little showmanship except for his uncharacteristically bravura releases.
There is little doubt that Reinhardt is an excellent conductor and it is smart that the DSO is bringing her back after her tenure, which ended last season. She knows the music and has distinctive opinions about how it should go. While her gestures are clear overall and she doesn’t mirror her hands as so many of her colleagues do, she has not quite figured out what to do with her emancipated left hand. She overuses a sweeping gesture to the point where it becomes a mannerism and loses effectiveness when it is needed. But she is clearly on her way to a major career.