Dallas — When discussing any orchestral performance of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), the first question is likely to be “How was the bassoon solo?” So let’s get that out of the way: Dallas Symphony Principal Bassoon Theodore Soluri nailed it. The solo is formidably high, at the top of the bassoon’s range, and it has evoked controversy among bassoonists and conductors—should it have a smooth sound, or a rawer one? (See this article for some insights into the history of the solo.)
Soluri went for smooth, with flawless tone and phrasing even in that stratospheric register, providing foreshadowing of Jaap van Zweden’s overall approach to Le Sacre.
If you like your sacrificial rites dirty and ribald, this may not be the Le Sacre for you. There is no hint, as there sometimes is in performances of this piece, of deliberate precariousness. What you’ll hear instead, in van Zweden and the DSO’s version, is a meticulous focus that, in its own absolutely precise way, is thrilling. Van Zweden’s attention to detail is well-known. Here, the rhythmic precision and exactitude of dynamic contrast, including pianissimos in the brass of almost unimaginable subtlety and tympani blasts that registered at 97 decibels from my seat in the audience, were testaments to the artistry of the orchestra and its conductor. Audiences are no longer storming the stage as they notoriously did at the ballet’s 1913 Paris premiere, but it is still an edge-of-the-seat experience when performed as well as the DSO did on Thursday evening.
The first half of the program consisted of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, with soloist Simone Lamsma, a young Dutch violinist. Lamsma seems to have well-defined ideas about phrasing and rubato, creating a pleasing sense of musical unity. Her technique is rock-solid, as well—she handled the considerable difficulties of the Brahms concerto with ease. She does not have a huge sound, however, and her vibrato was a bit frantic. The famous oboe solo at the beginning of the second movement can make or break a performance of this piece, and Principal Oboe Erin Hannigan excelled, with elegant and luscious sound. At the conclusion of the piece, Lamsma was presented with a bouquet, which she graciously handed to Hannigan.
Overall, Thursday’s concert was a fine start to the DSO’s Classical Series season.