Wagner: Tristan und Isolde:
Prelude and Liebestod
Concerto No. 2 in B flat major Op. 19
Stucky: August 4, 1964: Elegy
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Jaap
For five years now,
Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden has been working steadily to build the Dallas Symphony (DSO) into a world-class orchestra. Critical reaction in Dallas has been consistently glowing
and when conductor and orchestra were featured at the League of American
Orchestras Conference in Dallas last year, the reaction from the ‘movers and
shakers’ in the industry was ecstatic.
Now comes the biggest
test of all. In a few weeks, the DSO will embark on its first European tour
with van Zweden on the podium. Vienna, Amsterdam, Munich and Hamburg
will weigh in on what van Zweden has achieved. In preparation, the Dallas
Symphony is honing its two tour programs on home turf; based on what I heard
last week, there is reason for great optimism.
The first of the tour
programs is devoted to music by Wagner and Richard Strauss, with an added dash
of American content, in the form of Steven Stucky’s (photo: above right) eight-minute Elegy. In the Dallas concerts, Anton Nel
was featured in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2. In Europe, the Beethoven will
be replaced by Korngold’s Violin Concerto with Hilary Hahn as soloist. Later
this week, the DSO will test drive its other tour program, which features Mahler’s
Symphony No. 6.
DSO/van Zweden Wagner Glows from
The music of Richard Wagner is part of Jaap van Zweden’s core repertoire. In Holland, he has already
made complete recordings of Lohengrin,
Die Meistersinger and Parsifal, each of them impressive for
its command of structure and flow, and for a rare ability to balance complex
textures. These characteristics were evident again last week in the Dallas
Symphony performance of Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod. Van Zweden’s tempi in this piece were a little fast for my
taste, but there was no denying the quality of the playing or the authority of
From the opening bars
of the Prelude, van Zweden made clear
that this was music of great intimacy. The crescendi in the cellos were not
overdone, and led inexorably, initially to the first strong accent heard only
in the cellos (third phrase, bar 10), and then to the full-throated fortissimo
(bar 17). All this structural context was beautifully illuminated by van Zweden,
with extraordinarily refined playing from his cello section. As for the tempo:
in these 15 bars, there are numerous rests and pauses between phrases. It does make
excellent musical sense not to exaggerate these silences. While I agree that if
the conductor takes too slow a tempo here, the arc of those 15 bars can be
completely lost, I nevertheless believe that it could be preserved with a
slightly more relaxed tempo than that taken by van Zweden.
That said, this
Wagner glowed from within, from those yearning opening cello phrases to the
final resolution of love and death at the end of the Liebestod. Van Zweden reminded us that this is not a Götterdämmerung-category
climax, but something more human and profound. For all the passionate seething
in the music, the final climax, while rich and all consuming, is restrained.
The dynamic marking in the score is forte - not fortissimo - and certainly not
There are no cheap
effects in this music; van Zweden made sure his musicians understood that and they
gave him a deeply felt, perfectly balanced climax. This was sublime music making.
Stylish Rendering of Early Beethoven
The piano soloist on
this evening’s program was Anton Nel (photo: right), an artist well known to those of us who
spend a lot of time in Austin, Texas. Nel heads the piano faculty at the Butler
School of Music and is known to be masterly in a vast repertoire. He plays
frequently in Austin, where he was recently featured in the regional premiere at
the Zach Theatre, of 33 Variations, a
play which makes extensive use of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.
Nel and van Zweden
were remarkably attuned to each other in this performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with transitions and dynamics perfectly dove-tailed. Van Zweden
and the DSO recently concentrated on compositions by Mozart for a two-week
festival and this work paid off in this performance of the piano concerto, an early
Under van Zweden’s
direction, the strings of the Dallas Symphony demonstrated how adept they have
become at switching from late-Romantic Wagner to Classical Period Mozart and
Beethoven. It is a completely different world of bowing, dynamics and
articulation and few modern orchestras can do it convincingly. Anton Nel played
beautifully throughout and his control of dynamics in the slow movement was
One of Our Own: The Right Choice Better
than None at All
came Stucky’s Elegy (from August 4, 1964), the one American work
the DSO is taking to Europe, raising the question: “Shouldn’t American music be
better represented on a foreign tour than with an eight-minute piece?”
Absolutely. But then, Washington’s National Symphony recently went off to
Europe without a single American work
in its repertoire; inexcusable for the resident orchestra of the Kennedy Center
in the nation’s capital.
In defense of the
Dallas Symphony, I will point out that van Zweden and the DSO gave the world
premiere of Stucky’s August 4, 1964
in September, 2008, and took it to Carnegie Hall in 2011. Around the same time,
they recorded the piece; in other words, they are hugely invested in this
full-length concert drama, and this exciting eight-minute highlight is better
than nothing, considering that European promoters find major contemporary works
a tough sell in programs by touring orchestras.
In spite of its
brevity, Stucky’s Elegy is a powerful
and compelling piece, with some vivid contrasts between solo strings and
mournful brass. Van Zweden and the DSO gave it a stunning presentation.
European listeners exposed to this excerpt from the piece, may well be inspired
to check out the complete work.
Dallas Symphony Truly in Top Form for
The concert finished
with the performance of a suite from Richard Strauss’ opera Der Rosenkavalier. Several suites from
the opera, which are played more often, give us little more than a taste of the
merry waltz music. This suite, possibly put together by the young Leonard Bernstein,
is more ambitious. Starting with the exuberant opening bars of the opera, it goes
on to the Presentation of the Rose, then gives us much of the glorious final
trio and duet, ending with the waltz music in all its unfettered high spirits.
This suite has a wide range of moods and dynamics and represents a considerable
challenge for a virtuoso orchestra.
No problem for the
rejuvenated Dallas Symphony. One marveled both at the quality of the solo
playing and the tightly unified ensemble playing. Van Zweden has made upgrading
the strings a top priority and it shows. Few orchestras anywhere today can
boast of so many topnotch musicians in its ranks. The two concertmasters, Alexander Kerr and Nathan Olson, both of whom contributed very distinguished solo playing
to the Strauss performance, were backed up by equally fine players - Gary Levinson
and Emmanuelle Boisvert (former concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony) – behind
them at the second stand.
The horn section is
also one of the glories of the “new” Dallas Symphony. The orchestra is actively looking for a principal to replace Gregory Hustis
and is trying out candidates from other orchestras. In this concert, DSO
Associate Principal David Heyde led the section in the Wagner and third horn
David Cooper was the principal for the Strauss. Both were excellent, although
Cooper had more to do and did it with exceptional confidence and phrasing. The
entire section played with electrifying power and bravura.
Notably absent from
this concert was another outstanding young principal player. Principal trumpet
Ryan Anthony has been forced to withdraw temporarily due to illness. Let us
hope this wonderful musician will soon return to take his rightful place in the
orchestra. At last week’s concert and on the tour, his replacement is Manny Laureano, principal trumpet of the Minnesota Orchestra.
I’ll return to Dallas
later this week to report on the orchestra’s other tour program featuring Mahler’s
Symphony No. 6.
Labels: Anton Nel, Concert_Review, Dallas Symphony, Jaap van Zweden, klassinen musiikki, klassische Musik, musica classica, musique classique, 고전 음악, クラシック音楽, 古典音乐, 古典音樂