The Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Principal Clarinetist, Gregory Raden, has performed superb and subtle orchestral solos as well as some chamber music performances, leading to the assessment that he is one of the finest players around. On Thursday at the Meyerson Symphony Center, he proved his world-class status with a near-perfect performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.
It's only "near" because he was plagued with a recalcitrant key on his instrument during the first movement. But even here, he showed his professionalism. Working on the mechanical problem during the orchestral interludes and after the first movement, he was able to take get it fixed and by the second movement, it was clear sailing.
His performance was definitive. Every phrase was lovingly shaped and his justly famous soft sounds impressed every time he used them. The recapitulation of the melody in the second movement was played so softly and with such control that the audience held its breath. The last movement had just the right balance of humor and virtuosity.
This was the best performance of this work that I have ever heard.
Musical Director Jaap van Zweden, conducting a scaled-down to classical size DSO, was right with Raden every step of the way. That glorious moment in the aforementioned second movement would not have been possible without van Zweden getting the orchestra down to that barely audible level.
In fact, van Zweden was in top form all evening. Maybe it was the glowing introduction he received from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings that inspired him. Being named Musical America's Conductor of the Year has brought much glory to Dallas, as the mayor rightly proclaimed. But it there is something more than that at work in his performance.
Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C is called "The Great" and van Zweden made it greater. As in the Mozart, every phrase was molded and shaped by van Zweden's gestures. Gone was the tension that sometimes can get in his way. He never mirrored his hands and there was fluidity to his motions that you instantly heard from the orchestra. Also gone was the crouching stance that can make him appear overeager to communicate to the players. He stood tall, inviting the orchestra to join with him in making music instead of demanding.
The orchestra responded to all of this by turning in one of the most expressive performances of the season. Principal oboe Erin Hannigan shone on the solo in the andante con moto movement and the horns gave the symphony a stentorian sendoff.
Admittedly, the difference in his baton technique is subtle, but it made a world of difference. Even some nonmusicians in the audience were overheard commenting that he seemed more relaxed.
To me, he was transformed.