Fort Worth — Complaints about what an orchestra isn't playing make more sense when directed at an ensemble's season ("What gives? No Ketèlbey this year!") rather than at a single performance ("Why the ‘Oxford’? Why not the 65th?"). Anyone who did question the festival-appropriateness of the works on the Fort Worth Symphony's opening program of its 2015 Classical Masters Festival on Friday got their answer, and directly from Maestro Miguel Harth-Bedoya: the aim of this year's festival is to bring to the audience's attention some important stages in the development of the symphony orchestra as we now know it.
The conductor's remarks explained why, at least in the three concerts of August 28, 29 and 30, the audience wouldn't be allowed to take orchestration for granted; they also served implicitly to emphasize that the choice of works was completely appropriate, and that a festival with a purpose like this was a good idea.
On the heels of Harth-Bedoya's explanation, and after a few measures of settling in—or perhaps it was the audience that was settling in (sometimes the two are hard to distinguish)—the Mozart Overture took off. The post-introductory tempo was brisk, and everything was clean that was supposed to be, and we should probably thank Bass Performance Hall for this after we thank the musicians; it's an especially responsive hall, one that makes every musician's choices clear. What more could be asked?
The old-faithful status of Haydn’s Symphony No. 92, the last work on the program, belies its oddball features, and Harth-Bedoya's simple choice to repeat the first part of the first movement highlighted one of the important ones. The movement is constructed to keep listeners a little confused, a little off-balance at key moments, and repeating the movement's exposition highlights this characteristic. The slow movement is gratifying for other reasons, but not on account of any confusion. It brings to mind the slow movements of some of Haydn's late piano sonatas.
The conductor's tempi for the minuet and finale were perhaps a little faster than some are used to, and a little more effective for that—the minuet became fun rather than just a placeholder, and the trio, with its literally offbeat horn feature, became positively weird, the way Haydn intended. The tempo of the finale, on the other hand, was almost dangerously fast—which turned out to be fine, because the playing was uniformly clean, and this made Haydn's trademark stops-and-starts especially effective.
At the center of the program was Beethoven's first piano concerto, featuring Taiwan-born, Juilliard-educated Steven Lin as the soloist. Again, a less-than-exciting program choice became a bit of a revelation.
Lin made the piece. Stock gestures (such as the triplet figure in the closing material of the first movement's second subject) became something fresh in his hands—exactly what the material should be at that point. His choice of the longest of Beethoven's three cadenzas for the first movement (easily twice as long as the next longest) was a welcome one, since it makes allusions to the third movement's rondo theme, and some in the audience were wishing Beethoven had written an even longer cadenza, one that would have allowed Lin to keep going for five more minutes.
Likewise, my only complaint about the soloist's choice of Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu for an encore: I wanted it to last longer. Come to think of it, that's my only complaint about the festival, too. It only lasted one weekend.