Dallas — The Dallas Symphony continues to adjust to the current virus limitations so as to still offer live performances. The Meyerson Symphony Center remains almost empty with only a few subscribers scattered through the hall and programming is adjusted. Further, the orchestra is reduced to chamber proportions and they are widely distanced from each other.
On Thursday the program was changed from Shostakovich’s massive Symphony No. 8, which requires greatly expanded forces. Instead, we heard Beethoven’s modest Symphony No. 4 and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
The concert featured two impressive and relatively young talents. Both ably demonstrated that they are both on their way to the top. One is Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov and the other is the German-based American conductor Roderick Cox.
Recently, Cox was a substitute at the Fort Worth Symphony and he is a substitute this weekend with the DSO, standing in for the originally scheduled Jukka-Pekka Saraste.
Cox is a young shooting star in the rarified atmosphere of Maestro World. He was the winner of the important Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award a few years ago, which brought him to worldwide attention. He is also notable because he is one of the few Black conductors.
Abduraimov also had a competition launching pad when he won London International Piano Competition in 2009 at the age of 18 and now as accumulated a large list of solo gigs with major symphonies. While Cox is far from a finished conductor, which takes years if not decades to achieve, he has all of the tools required to do so. Abduraimov also as the chops for a major career.
The pair turned in splendid performances of Beethoven’s concerto and the cooperation between the two of them was more impressive than the individual performances.
Abduraimov gave a thoughtful and technically exemplary performance of Beethoven’s concerto. As with other concerti written by concertizing pianists for the composer’s own performances, difficulties abound. However, Abduraimov masterly played such passages without ever rising from musicality to gratuitous flash. What are usually played as nimble finger busting showy passages, in his hands they always had a musical chore to accomplish. It was a breath-of-fresh-air performance. Perhaps the huge ovation was for Abduraimov’s superb performance as well as for Beethoven upon hearing the concerto so freshly scrubbed of years of stale traditions.
The same is true of Cox’s carefully planned reading of Beethoven’s symphony. He conducted without the score, which is a rarity among the top-rated conductors, even with well-known scores. His baton technique, mostly contained in a frame no larger than the dimensions of this body, is precise and communicative, but stiff. Further, his left hand rarely gets to do its expressive job.
However, he achieved the difficulties this score presents to conductors, including wild dynamic contrasts, cross rhythms, sudden accents and texture changes from the full ensemble to only one hushed instrument. However, some loud moments were overplayed and reached identical proportions in each movement, leaving little ammo remaining for the last movement’s exciting coda.
This is not meant to detract from this positive review, but what was missing on Thursday was the humor Beethoven intended when he wrote all of those aforementioned musical surprises. This symphony is most always described as cheerful and light-hearted, which is surprising because it was written in a difficult time in the composer’s life. Most musicologists opine that this work was written as an escape from what was going on. If so, playing it without all of the intended fun, and the composer’s winks to the listener, defeats the composer’s intentions.
Reduced to chamber size, the DSO was simply magnificent all evening. Intonation and ensemble were so good as to be a noticeable takeaway. The clarity of the playing sparkled. All of the principal winds had solos that were played better than any other performance in memory.