Dallas — The last of April’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra concerts were supposed to have been conducted by Jaap van Zweden, but he made an unexpected trip to Amsterdam for dental surgery, leaving Assistant Conductor Ruth Reinhardt on the podium.
The Classical repertoire is not particularly van Zweden’s forte, so a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor with pianist Louis Lortie gave Reinhardt a chance to shine. Her podium work and preparation of the orchestra were certainly more than competent, although Mozart’s delicacy creates many pitfalls for the unwary (and sometimes the wary, as well—his music is notoriously, deceptively difficult). Strings in particular stumbled a bit, with some surprising intonation problems in the upper strings in the first movement and some rushing here and there in the second. Louis Lortie’s playing was brilliantly sensitive, dramatic when called for, but never campy. In the third movement Rondo, Principal Oboe Erin Hannigan and Principal Flute David Buck sparkled, and kept up nicely with Lortie’s rather brisk clip.
The focal point of the evening, though, was Maurice Duruflé’s 1948 Requiem, with the Dallas Symphony Chorus under Director Joshua Habermann and with mezzo-soprano soloist Sasha Cooke. (Someone, presumably van Zweden, chose not to use a baritone soloist in these performances, though there is a part for one. This choice has precedent and was likely even Duruflé’s own preference.) As large-scale choral works go, the Duruflé is not a personal favorite. It seems to surge in fits and starts, never quite satisfying. Duruflé omits the best-known part of the requiem mass, the Dies Irae, and adds the Pie Jesu, Libera Me, and the In Paradisum, which is traditionally used in the burial service. Fauré used a similar sequence of texts in his Requiem 60 years before Duruflé. This sequence results in a more reflective requiem mass than fierier and more familiar versions by, say, Mozart or Brahms. All that notwithstanding: aside from a few ragged entrances, Reinhardt coaxed magnificent performances from the symphony and chorus. Massive dynamic contrasts in the chorus created thrilling effects, and orchestral colors were extraordinarily varied. Sasha Cooke’s brief solo in the Pie Jesu was deeply appealing—she has a dusky, surprisingly intimate lower range, and shaped phrases beautifully.
While it’s unfortunate that Jaap van Zweden had to absent himself from one of the last concert series he was to have conducted with the Dallas Symphony, Ruth Reinhardt proved herself to be a credible substitute, and, more importantly, the Dallas Symphony proved that it doesn’t necessarily require van Zweden’s notorious micromanagement to be excellent.