Fort Worth — The Fort Worth Symphony presented an engaging and well-balanced program this weekend as the last offering of its 2018-2019 Symphonic Series. All three pieces on the program, Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, Rodrigo’s Fantasía para un gentilhombre with guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor, were composed within a span of just over 20 years, but they could hardly be more different.
Kodály’s piece, a commission for the Budapest Philharmonic Society in 1933, uses Slovakian and Romani folk tunes as its inspiration, resulting in a lighthearted, highly melodic piece. Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya milked the Dances’ extreme, abrupt tempo changes for maximum effect. Strings, on the whole, sounded excellent here, with tight ensemble and intonation. Principal Horn Molly Norcross and Principal Flute Jake Fridkis offering charming, well-phrased solos.
Rodrigo’s 1954 Fantasía, certainly the composer’s second-best-known work after his Concierto de Aranjuez, is likewise based on dances, in this case 17th-century Spanish dances by Gaspar Sanz. Guitarist Sáinz Villegas dispatched Rodrigo’s piece with technical fluency and musicality. This was a lively and well-crafted rendition of an audience favorite, and Sáinz Villegas further impressed with his encore, which used a variety of percussive, snare-drum-like effects.
After this lighthearted first half, we about-faced to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. Composed in 1937, the symphony had to be both appealing to the public and acceptable to Soviet officials. Shostakovich struggled for much of his career to write in ways that would both enable his artistic expression and find favor with the government. After his denunciation in 1936, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony marked his return to artistic and political acceptance.
It is a large-scale piece, scored for an orchestra including lots of percussion, two harps, piano, celeste, and supersized string sections, with three violin parts and two parts each for violas, cellos, and basses. For the most part, the orchestra brought it Friday evening—sometimes too much. The outer movements frequently lost subtlety in the big tutti sections. They’re supposed to be loud, and I love a sonic bath as much as the next person, but decibels shouldn’t ever take precedence over musicality. The fifth is a deeply emotional work, highlighting conflict and angst along with beauty and joy. It requires a subtle touch, even in its most raucous moments.
Still, far more went right than went wrong, with too many first-rate solos to list, including Ivan Petruzziello on E-flat clarinet in the second movement, Jake Fridkis on flute in the third, and trumpet Kyle Sherman and horn Molly Norcross in the final movement. The third movement was especially well-crafted, with strings sustaining astonishing intensity for its entire duration.
After almost 20 years as the Fort Worth Symphony’s music director, Miguel Harth-Bedoya will have his last season with the orchestra next year. He has built the FWSO into an increasingly consistent, solid, musically satisfying ensemble. One can only hope that the FWSO will choose his replacement well, so that they continue to flourish.