Dallas — Being an orchestral musician is a lot of hard work, no doubt about it. But sometimes, it really does seem as if they have the best jobs in the world: earning a living to play some of the most glorious music ever written. This weekend’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra program, with Jaap van Zweden returning as Conductor Laureate, is one of those times.
The Schumann Concerto in A minor for Piano and Orchestra, with soloist Louis Lortie, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, the “Titan,” are both pieces that, when well-played, simply turn this critic to mush. Both, on the same program, played marvelously? Almost too much gloriousness.
Let’s get this out of the way: it was not a perfect performance. There were a few cracked notes in the brass. There was the occasional untidy entrance. A key solo or two could have gone better. But so much more went well. Lortie’s playing in the Schumann was sensitive, nuanced, lovely. The orchestra seldom overbalanced him, even at softer dynamics. Clarinetist Gregory Raden’s solos were phrased to perfection. The cello soli (solo for the entire section) in the second movement is one of the most gorgeous melodies ever written, and the DSO cellos wowed us, with lush, rich, chocolatey sound. This was a performance always respectful of Schumann: not overdone, not excessively flashy, just pure and elegant: a pleasurable listen, always.
And the Mahler was even better. The first symphony is the most accessible of Mahler’s symphonies—when I first heard it live as a college undergraduate, it was a sort of gateway drug to the wonders of late Romantic music. It has a familiar tune, “Frère Jacques,” (albeit in a minor key) that bookends the third movement, and also includes some klezmer music and an Austrian ländler, a folk dance familiar to The Sound of Music aficionados. There are the offstage trumpets in the first movement. (It was great to see—and hear—Principal Trumpet Ryan Anthony back with the orchestra this weekend as he continues his fight against multiple myeloma.) There are huge cymbal crashes (offered spectacularly by percussionist Daniel Florio). And then there’s that thrilling, theatrical, perfect moment in the final movement, when all seven horns, bells raised, stand up. Your critic has a very bad poker face: as they stood, I was smiling so big my face hurt. This was an excellent, joyful, heartfelt performance of some of the best music in the orchestral repertoire. Splendidly done, DSO.
This weekend’s program gets my highest recommendation. Go if you can but note that there’s no Sunday concert this week. Instead, Sunday is DSO Day at Klyde Warren Park.