Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra returns to Bass Performance Hall with expressive Dvorak
It was a relief to finally hear the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at Bass Performance Hall. Last year, the FWSO were forced to perform in the acoustically terrible Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium, having been kicked out of the Much Superior Bass Hall just before the start of the season.
Friday’s season opener, led by Kevin John Edusei, featured the standard mix of a contemporary work, a concerto and a symphony over approximately two hours. The concert certainly demonstrated the internationalism of today’s classical music scene, with a conductor born to Ghanaian and German parents, an African-American composer and a Taiwanese-Australian violinist.
Chamber orchestra forces of about 40 musicians from the FWSO performed last year. The new season, however, started with the full-size orchestra. The 2,042-seat hall is operating at full capacity and the orchestra has drawn around 660 spectators. Masks are compulsory in the audience, and string and percussion players wore them on stage.
Inspired by his childhood in Birmingham, Alabama, Brian Raphael Nabors’ Impulse (2019) is a rather quick rhapsody that unfolds in several continuous episodes over 12 minutes.
Lively wind lines erupt in the opening and lyrical trumpet tunes – delivered with panache by the FWSO section – emerge from the rhythmic energies. Later, jagged orchestral accents punctuate parts of slamming and hammering percussions, and big brassy climaxes portend ghostly glides in the violins. A slow and atmospheric coda brings the work to a peaceful conclusion.
Using clear and economical gestures, Edusei led an incisive narrative that was marred only by a tendency for strings and brass to control the winds.
As the star soloist, Ray Chen attacked the Sibelius Violin Concerto with incandescent intensity. He dispatches virtuoso passages with enthusiasm, giving shape to the thorniest sections. And it featured a brilliant tone that often blazed with color.
But the phrases of the first movement often sounded jerky and mannered, with accents landing in unusual places. The poignant melodies of the slow movement sometimes seemed forced and called for more tenderness. Exaggerated accents affected the finale, although Chen’s fiery spirit generally matches the character of the movement.
Edusei elicited expressive undertones from the orchestra, which supported Chen’s intensity with vigorous playing. However, the brass tended to cover the winds again, and the orchestral rhythms of the finale needed more clarity.
As a reminder, Chen offered his own interpretation of Waltzing Matilda – the familiar Australian folk song – which alternated between dark nostalgia and lighthearted glee.
In Dvorak’s Bright and Rustic Eighth Symphony, Edusei again achieved expressive results from the orchestra. He tapered the ends of the sentences in the introductory theme slightly and placed nice lengths between them. In the scherzo of the third movement, he brought out a graceful melody of the Bohemian dances. The finale breathed both feverish abandon and elegiac melancholy.
While there were beautiful dynamic contrasts and mysterious pianos, playback often needed more on the softer end of the dynamic spectrum. The start of the slow movement, for example, was much louder than Dvorak’s marked mezzo-piano.
Sometimes trumpets came out of the textures, the winds were not always in expressive tuning, and intonation problems sometimes arose in various parts.
Despite these problems, Edusei has proven to be an effective leader with a sure understanding of musical architecture. This listener looks forward to Edusei’s return to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in January, when he conducts the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Resumes at 7:30 p.m. on September 18 and September 19 at 2 p.m. at Bass Performance Hall, Fourth and Commerce, Fort Worth. $ 25 to $ 99. 817-665-6000, fwsymphony.org.