The Fort Worth Symphony continued its American Music Festival at Bass Hall on Saturday. Once again, the program was a collection of compositions that wouldn't normally be on the same concert together. Samuel Barber's elegant Violin Concerto sits uneasily with a movement from Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, complete with its depiction of a braying donkey.
Actually, the most intriguing piece on the program was a symphonic tone poem by Duke Ellington titled Harlem, which closed the concert. Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya led a greatly expanded FWSO in an inspired performance. Most of the solo players had a chance to show off their jazz chops. The clarinets were all featured, from the bass clarinet upwards. Trombones had some nice solo work. Trumpets squealed way out of their usual symphonic range and the percussion had a real workout, including an extended cadenza.
Barber's Violin Concerto is always a favorite. The publisher states that this is the most frequently performed work in their rental catalog. Little wonder. It is a sublimely beautiful composition. Once again, Harth-Bedoya was in top form, always right with the soloist and easily negotiated the tricky last movement.
Violinist Augustin Hadelich has greatly impressed lately. He gave a thoughtful performance for Chamber Music International with pianist Joyce Yang. In September of 2011, he played Lalo's splashy Symphonie Espagnole with the Fort Worth Symphony. Then, as on Saturday evening, there were times that his slender tone was covered by the orchestra. There is something oddly muted about his sound when he plays in Bass Hall. Further, he was not as successful making a case for his overplayed interpretation of the Barber as he was in the more virtuosic Lalo.
The Barber is not a virtuoso showpiece. It is an intimate work that is more on the scale of a sonata than a concerto. Where Barber does write passagework, Hadelich tried to make the most of it by playing it as if it was something by Paganini, which ill suited the intent of the composer. The last movement was too fast and Hadelich kept forward pressure on the tempo throughout. This movement, while fast and constantly moving, is not the place to show off nimble fingers, although many soloists treat it that way. Fortunately, Harth-Bedoya kept a tight hands on the reins or who knows how fast the work would have gone at the ending. Hadelich was much more at home with his encore, Paganini's Caprice No. 19, which he played with great style and flair.
Roy Harris wrote his American Overture (based on When Johnny Comes Marching Home) around the same time as the Barber concerto, but it is hard to imagine two pieces that are more different. Harris, who was fond of using folk materials, puts the familiar tune though an unexpected harmonic and rhythmic metamorphous. Associate Conductor Andres Franco was an inspiring presence on the podium and he impressed anew as he made a good case for Harris' odd overture. Dating from roughly the same period as his Symphony No. 3, which is the work that made his reputation, this overture is rarely performed and it was enjoyable to hear it.
The third movement of Phillip Glass' Symphony No. 3 accompanied a short time-lapse film about Fort Worth—mostly about traffic, construction and tornados. Obviously scheduled as part of the 100-year anniversary of the orchestra, this film, unlike the one about the orchestra itself that was played on Friday, seemed out of place and only tangentially relevant. Still, it was effective and it was nice to have some visuals to watch as Glass' repetitive minimalist style droned on and on.
◊ Here's the review of the first concert in the American Festival.
Here is the lineup for Sunday's performance:
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Conductor
José Feghali, Piano
IVES arr. SCHUMAN Variations on America
STILL Symphony No. 1, "Afro‐American"
GERSHWIN Piano Concerto in F Major
COPLAND Three Dance Episodes from Rodeo