Richardson — For its 2018-19 season opener on Oct. 6, the Richardson Symphony Orchestra showed its audience that it is, these days, one of the best per service orchestras in the area. (“Per service” means that the musicians are paid per rehearsal or concert, and usually make only a tiny fraction of what musicians in full-time orchestras such as the Dallas Symphony earn.)
Under Music Director Clay Couturiaux (who is also Assistant Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of North Texas College of Music), the orchestra performed stalwarts of the orchestral repertoire: music by both Strausses (Richard and Johann II), Wagner, and Max Bruch. More’s the pity that the audience wasn’t larger. This is an orchestra that, increasingly, deserves to be heard.
Beginning with Johann Strauss II’s Overture to Die Fledermaus is always a safe bet: the crowd-pleasing music by the “Waltz King” is one of the most cheerful overtures in the repertoire, and in this case is even seasonal—“die Fledermaus” is German for “the bat.” Strings were a little messy in some of the trickier spots, but for the most part, the orchestra got the mood just right.
The marquee event on the RSO’s program was Max Bruch’s beloved Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, with soloist Paul Huang. Huang, a 27-year-old Taiwanese-American Juilliard alumnus, has a compelling sound, rich, warm, and inviting. His performance of the Bruch was always engaging, if not technically flawless—he missed a couple of key shifts early in the first movement, and had a lapse in the third, but recovered nicely. Huang does not have a dynamic stage presence, but he more than compensates with big sound. This was a performance for the RSO to be proud of. The orchestra supported Huang beautifully, never overbalancing him, in a performance that was consistently a pleasure to hear.
The second half of the program began with Richard Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. This is Wagner at his most ethereal. The orchestra played competently, with good intonation and gorgeous tone, especially in the strings, though I would have preferred a clearer sense of line. Still, this was an appealing performance—I just wish the audience could have paused for a moment before beginning their rather premature applause. Let that sublime last note die away, folks; don’t cover it with clapping.
Orchestral music, the Suite from yet another opera, Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, finished up the evening’s program. This orchestral suite, probably created from the opera’s music without any oversight from Strauss himself, is lighter fare than much of Strauss’ music. This performance featured an effective solo by Concertmaster Philip Lewis, though some brass seemed to be getting a bit tired by this point.
The Eisenmann Center’s Hill Performance Hall is an interesting space—the stage is unusually wide, far more so than either the Meyerson or Bass Hall stages. As a result, there is plenty of room for percussion to line up near the front of the stage, making them unusually visible even for audience members sitting on the first level. (Though I do worry about the hearing health of the violinists stationed right in front of the percussion.)
If you haven’t had a chance to hear the RSO in recent years, I recommend that you give them a listen: they’re a fine orchestra that deserves a more robust audience.