Dallas — This weekend’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra concerts feature old-school Romanticism from Dvořák and Schumann, with old-school conducting from 80-year-old Polish conductor Marek Janowski.
Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B Minor is perhaps the iconic concerto for that instrument, immortalized for man listeners in Jacqueline du Pré’s 1971 recording. And that’s a bit of a problem. For those of us who grew up a bit obsessed with “Jackie” and her poignant story — she died of multiple sclerosis in 1987 at age 42, although she retired from playing in 1973 due to her illness — it’s hard to hear any other performance that’s not layered over hers.
Cellist Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt, performing this weekend with the DSO, has a sufficiently distinctive musical voice that the memories of other recordings, other performances, become the most evanescent of ghosts. Schmidt’s opening phrase in the first movement was unusually articulated and a bit slow, with wide vibrato: a distinctive start that set the tone for what was to come. The orchestra sounded fine, as well, although Schmidt, playing a Goffriller cello, does not have a huge sound, so the orchestra sometimes overbalanced him, and often played disproportionately loudly in tuttis. This was a very good if not thrilling performance, rather old-fashioned in its approach. Acting Principal Horn David Heyde and Principal Clarinet Gregory Raden sounded especially fine in their solos in the first movement’s opening theme.
Likewise, Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major received an attentive and (mostly) traditional performance from the DSO. The first movement, marked Sostenuto assai—Allegro ma non troppo, was the least satisfying of the lot; the performance seemingly lacked a coherent musical idea. The second movement, though, a diamantine scherzo, scintillated with refracted brilliance. The first violin part is intimidatingly difficult, a veritable moto perpetuo for the fiddles, and a frequent addition to audition lists. The Dallas Symphony violins, first and second, brought it Thursday night, with a clean, crisp, unified sound.
The heartbreaking third movement, marked Adagio espressivo, was stunning. Particularly, Principal Oboe Erin Hannigan, Principal Clarinet Gregory Raden, and the entire horn section brought excellence and poignant lyricism to Schumann’s music, written even as he fought through a bout of the mental illness that would later overmaster him. The fourth movement was the only part of this symphony that was a bit less traditional — marked Allegro molto vivace, it took off at breakneck speed and Janowski never reined it in; if anything, he whipped the orchestra up still more, to a nearly unplayable pace. Still, they managed it with aplomb.
It’s just a shame that more folks weren’t around to listen. Attendance was sparse, even for a Thursday, despite various discounts and social media promotions.