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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dallas Symphony Delivers Mixed Bag in Mostly Russian Program

Tonight's Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert offered up a mixed bag in both its choice of repertoire and the quality of the performances.

Guest conductor Paul Phillips, known to work wonders with the student orchestras at Southern Methodist University led a program of works by Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff and Copland that was at times fascinating, at others bold and exciting and at still others found wanting.

Opening with Dmitry Shostakovich's Five Fragments, Op. 42 from 1935, Phillips molded taut and concise statements from these brief studies in orchestration. One wonders if these works would have been more effective cast for smaller forces, given that most of the orchestra sat idle at any given time throughout the brief ten minute work. Most notable was the rather haunting third movement, scored for muted strings. It was interesting to hear a rarely performed work by such a major composer, but in the end, it served only as a curious appetizer, with little to take home.

The youthful Ukrainian pianist Anna Federova joined the orchestra for a disappointing romp through Rachmaninoff's hyper-romantic Second Piano Concerto.  While Ms. Federova's considerable technique was in evidence, her playing lacked the physical power to create the  rich sonorities called for in the score. Coupled with an overblown and generally sloppy orchestral accompaniment, we occasionally found ourselves cupping hands to ears to hear the piano. Ms. Federova also erred on the side of cliche when it came to playing Rachmaninoff's arching melodies, particularly in the slow movement. I often just wanted her to get on with it instead of milking every last semi-quaver until it ran dry.

Of course, the Meyerson audience lumbered to its feet at the end of the concerto. When will our fair music loving public learn that fast and (occasionally) loud, do not make for a life changing experience? The de rigueur standing O has become tiresomely trite around these parts. Not everything, especially tonight's performance, deserves such high praise.

Aaron Copland's massive third symphony rounded out the program. It is pretty rare to hear this enormously scored work in live performance, and Phillips and the DSO did not disappoint this evening. Kudos to the brass and percussion sections for some serious virtuosity. Maestro Phillips kept the tried and true Fanfare for the Common Man ending moving at a nice pace, building the final climax slowly and delivering a nicely thrilling payoff at the end.

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