Fort Worth — Robert Trevino grew up in Fort Worth and attended the University of Texas at Arlington; now in his mid-thirties, he has become a rising star among conductors internationally, with permanent posts in Spain and Sweden. Friday, he returned to Fort Worth to stand on the podium of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, presenting a magnificently paced and performed concert of high romantic and early modern symphonic works at Bass Performance Hall.
First up, the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde showcased a conductor who, from a starting point of absolute intellectual command of material, aimed for and achieved a stunning emotional effect. Interwoven lines — so clearly communicated that the listener could almost see as well as hear the complex counterpoint — gradually built into a tidal wave of passion in this representation of mythic love. The orchestra did its part with beautifully lucid and sculpted playing, exemplified by the breathtakingly precise delivery of the pianissimo phrase in the basses and cellos at the close of the Prelude section. From a personal viewpoint, the performance reminded this jaded critic, who has spent much of the last fifty years seated in concert halls, why we have classical music and classical music concerts.
Trevino and the orchestra then metaphorically leapt 60 years past Tristan und Isolde to 1924 and the concert version of Bartók’s ballet score The Miraculous Mandarin. Like the Wagner which preceded it, The Miraculous Mandarin deals with those two essential and eternally problematic aspects of life, love and death. Unlike the Wagner, the Bartók work explores those elements with relentless dissonance and brilliant percussiveness.
As in the Wagner, Trevino admirably relied on a foundation of solid musicianship to make the point and underline the inspired genius behind this 20th century masterpiece. The lurid narrative beneath the sometimes glittering, sometimes shocking score was never noisy or ugly in Trevino’s reading; that the musically conservative audience for Friday night concerts at Bass Performance Hall responded with unabashed enthusiasm speaks volumes in favor of Trevino’s approach.
(Though this listener is generally tired of the concept of on-stage spoken comments before performances, Trevino’s smoothly delivered, occasionally and appropriately humorous verbal delineation of The Miraculous Mandarin undoubtedly contributed to the audience’s obvious appreciation for the music and the performance.)
After intermission, Trevino and the orchestra landed halfway between Wagner and Bartók with Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2; Trevino once again displayed an impressive command of orchestral resources and of the challenges presented by this epic, gorgeously orchestrated, and relentlessly melodic score. As Trevino pointed out in his comments, the creation of this particular work was part of Rachmaninoff’s psychological emergence from a bad case of writer’s block; like the contemporaneous epic novels of Tolstoy, the piece is intensely personal, broadly universal, and unmistakably Russian.
Once again, Trevino built the intense passions of this score on a solid recognition of Rachmaninoff’s oft overlooked but masterful command of counterpoint and traditional harmonic practice. The epic quality of the first movement, with its constant shifts from darkness to light, gave way inexorably to the electric energy of the subsequent Allegro molto (including a lively fugue, a stirring march section — and sleigh bells). The Adagio third movement of course contains one of Rachmaninoff’s most beautiful tunes (for better or worse, famously coopted by Eric Carmen for the pop hit “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again”). Trevino, supported by lucid playing from the strings (including an echt romantic but entirely convincing portamento), etched out the academic counterpoint underlying the sweepingly passionate surface of this movement before landing on that lingering coda.
Occasional dark clouds, festive dances, and an irresistible march section enliven the grand final movement, in which joyful ecstasy ultimately emerges from the storms, drawing this symphonic journey and the impressive performance by Trevino and the orchestra to a close.
An oddity that had no effect on the musical performance is that, in the program book, there is no mention of Trevino’s hometown ties to Fort Worth and Tarrant County. That oversight is downright puzzling. Hopefully, we’ll hear more from him hereabouts in the future.