Classical music review: With dazzling soloist, Dallas Symphony shines with bold take on Mozart

Caroline Goulding
Dallas Morning News


Flutist James Galway, originally booked for this week's Dallas Symphony Orchestra concerts, had to cancel after suffering multiple fractures in a December fall. Led by baroque-music specialist Nicholas McGegan, the program remains 18th-century. But the soloist is an outstanding 17-year-old violinist, Caroline Goulding.

In Thursday's opening performance, at the Meyerson Symphony Center, Goulding brought a slender but gleaming tone and dazzling technique to Mozart's D major Violin Concerto (K. 218). This was also playing of lively personality and suave inflection, although patches of the first movement felt a little rushed.

McGegan and a large chamber-orchestra contingent of the DSO admirably matched Goulding's lively, expressive manner. A boldly sculpted, elaborately nuanced account of Mozart's B-flat major Divertimento for strings (K. 137) was a welcome antidote to the Laura Ashley prettiness too often served up in the composer's name. The central Allegro di molto was exhilarating.

The baroque music fared far less well. But then Bach's "orchestral" Suite No. 3, in D major, was meant for an ensemble considerably smaller even than the slimmed-down DSO. Handel's Royal Fireworks Music was conceived for a huge outdoor band of winds, brass and timpani. There are reasons symphony orchestras now rarely play this repertory.

Eighteenth-century trumpets were far softer than modern counterparts. But, playing ersatz "Bach" trumpets with valves, the DSO players emitted ear-piercing shrieks in the Handel, while double basses boomed too loudly. The harpsichord was inaudible.

About half the string players essayed the restrained vibrato that was the 18th-century norm; the others throbbed away as they would in Tchaikovsky.

Quite an acrobatic conductor, McGegan certainly cultivated high spirits, and a feeling of dance essential to baroque music. But some lively pacings were too much of a good thing, and coordination occasionally loosened. Bourées in both the Bach and Handel were on the edge of frantic.