Fort Worth Symphony brings springing rhythms to life

01.08.10
Jennifer Koh
Dallas Morning News

By Scott Cantrell

FORT WORTH – Modern symphony orchestras used to play 18th-century music pretty much the same way they played Brahms and Prokofiev: with a robust sound, largely legato, strings aquiver with the continuous vibrato unknown before the 20th century.

In more recent years, even symphony orchestras and their conductors have essayed at least aspects of 18th-century performance practices – especially lighter touches and more sparing vibrato – in Handel, Mozart and such..

The Fort Worth Symphony has had little experience with this, so one was keen to hear what guest conductor Nicholas McGegan would do Friday evening with Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Mozart's Linz Symphony.

McGegan has worked extensively with period instruments as well as symphony orchestras. And in both the Vivaldi and Mozart his lively tempos and springing rhythms never let us forget 18th-century music's grounding in dance. Dramatic, even flamboyant performances also reminded us of baroque notions of music as rhetoric.

The string complements were large by 18th-century standards – virtually the entire FWSO roster in the Mozart. Given Bass Performance Hall's powerful bass response, about half as many double basses would have been better.

Apart from an occasional loosening of ensemble the orchestra played up a storm. Vibrato was relatively restrained, but the continuo cellist in the Vivaldi still wiggled too much.

Violinist Jennifer Koh played brilliantly in the Vivaldi, with a big, gleaming tone. But both she and the orchestra sometimes whipped up scorching fortissimos better suited to Shostakovich.

The poetic lines Vivaldi included with the score were reproduced in the program book, but there was too little light to read them. Even better would have been projecting the lines, à la opera supertitles, at appropriate points in the performance.

The shorter-format Friday performance omitted the Haydn Symphony No. 53 in D major, which will be included on Saturday and Sunday.