Dallas — David Cooper may well be the best horn player in the world. Currently principal horn of the Dallas Symphony, he recently won the principal horn position with the Berlin Philharmonic. If those credentials alone aren’t sufficiently convincing, his utter ownership on Thursday evening of Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major could not have failed to convince even skeptics—are there any, at this point?—of his prowess. This piece is an icon of the admittedly limited horn repertoire, and thus no doubt familiar to many listeners, but Cooper revealed nuances of unmatched subtlety. His purity of tone in the softest dynamic registers is a miracle, and his ringing fortes are vibrant and golden. This was 16 minutes of unadulterated joy.
Alas, the orchestra’s performance was regrettably imperfect, with some tuning and ensemble issues here and there. But the standing ovation for the soloist—replete with audience members bellowing “COOP! COOP!”—was well-deserved. We have been extraordinarily lucky to have David Cooper in DFW for the past several years, first as a member of the Fort Worth Symphony and for the past six years as a member of the Dallas Symphony, and we should be sad to see him go.
Former DSO assistant conductor Karina Canellakis returned to the Meyerson to conduct the orchestra; her conducting seems increasingly assured as she matures. Still, the first work on the program, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8, would have benefitted from a fuller sound and better balance, especially in the third movement. At one point, the cellos were virtually inaudible under the winds. The orchestra was much reduced, and a few more cellos and basses might have made all the difference with both problems. The second movement scherzo, though, had a wonderful sense of fun. Like the eighth symphony itself, this performance was good but not great.
The orchestra sounded far better after intermission, with Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. It was a glorious sonic bath of dizzying complexity. Principal clarinet Gregory Raden’s first movement solo and principal percussionist Douglas Howard’s critical snare drum solo in the second movement were particular standouts. Matthew Roitstein, associate principal flute of the Houston Symphony, was again guest principal flute, and again he impressed with the robust, full quality of his sound. In the Concerto for Orchestra, Bartók shows his considerable gifts as a melodist, and in the rambunctious, changeable fourth movement, the viola section in particular impressed with their rich cantabile sound. This was a top-tier orchestra performing difficult repertoire at the highest level.
Go if you can, if only to hear David Cooper’s performance of the Strauss. Note that there is no Sunday performance this week, though, so you’d best hurry.