Fort Worth — Over the past few years, the concerts at the Fort Worth Symphony have been on an upward trajectory. This is a fine orchestra at its core, but each concert seems to build on the success of the last. The March 20 performance reached a pinnacle, but there is every reason to believe that this evolution will only continue. The FWSO is earning a place among the major orchestras in the country.
Part of this success is a maturation of podium technique by Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya. There has been much comment about this in these pages, as well as elsewhere, so it doesn’t need to be repeated. However, this is part of the recent success of the orchestra.
His precise baton technique creates sparkling performances with tight ensemble. He has an innate feel for the music and intelligent approach to the architecture, but the secret sauce in the mixture is that he invites the orchestra play, rather than demanding, and trusts them with the freedom to express themselves within his parameters.
All these considerations were front and center as the FWSO and Harth-Bedoya launched into a definitive performance of Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan. This is an orchestral showpiece and is so difficult to play that sections of it are always on auditions for vacant seats. Each of the players rose to the occasion and the work by the solo players was exemplary. Even the brass section was on their best behavior and, while they approached the too-loud border, they never crossed it.
The same can be said for the performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which ended the program. It is easy to dismiss this symphony because of its ubiquitous nature. But it is not to be taken lightly. This is a very difficult symphony for the individual players. It is also a challenge for the conductor to knit together. The transition to the last movement alone is a conductorial trial that makes it a subject of much debate among the profession.
All of these elements came together on Friday and the FWSO and MHB turned in a memorable performance. Tempi were close to Beethoven’s wishes, the technical difficulties were surmounted, and that aforementioned transition was deftly handled.
On top of all of this, Vadym Kholodenko, the Gold Medalist of the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, joined the orchestra for the next installment of a perusal of all of Prokofiev’s piano concerti.
This partnership evolved out of the competition and all of the concerti will be issued in recordings, but those of us who are able to attend in person can feel the electricity in the air during the performances.
The Cliburn is famous for fielding young pianists with impeccable technique, the levels of which could only have been imagined by even the greatest pianists decades ago and appears to have no limits. Kholodenko’s technique was a notch above the rest of the field, but it was his sensitive musicianship that assured him the gold.
Both his astounding technique and superior musicianship was on full display in the performance of Prokofiev’s fifth piano concerto. We don’t hear this concerto as frequently as the others but you cannot help but wonder why. It is surprisingly attractive and accessible, full of lovely melodies and effective writing.
Kholodenko’s control of the piano is another one of the aspects of his playing that sets him apart. He is able to get an immense sound without overplaying the abilities of the instrument. The precision of his technique allows him to play quick passages with minimal pedal, clarifying music that is more usually fogged.
This was an excellent concert from beginning to end and has to be in the running for a Top 10 spot.