Fort Worth Symphony holds its own against Dallas

Dallas Morning News

By Scott Cantrell

This week’s national conference of the League of American Orchestras, meeting in Dallas, included concerts by our area’s top two orchestras. On Wednesday, Jaap van Zweden led the Dallas Symphony in white-hot performances at the Meyerson Symphony Center. On Thursday, it was the Fort Worth Symphony’s turn, also at the Meyerson, under its music director, Miguel Harth-Bedoya.

With a budget less than half the DSO’s, the Fort Worth orchestra and conductor didn’t match the DSO for subtlety and sophistication, but the playing was very accomplished and exciting where called for.

The first half was devoted to works by two of the FWSO’s previous composers-in-residence. Jennifer Higdon’s 2004 Loco is seven minutes of high-energy scurries, clatters, chatters, jabs, chugs and fanfares. The orchestra played up a storm, and Higdon was welcomed to the stage afterward for brief remarks.

Kevin Puts’ 2006 Violin Concerto was commissioned by the FWSO. The first movement, “Meditation,” has the soloist mostly weaving freely lyrical lines through repetitions of a rising four-note motif and lush string textures; one’s reminded of the slow movement of the Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto. There are agitated passages, too, although the orchestra seems a calming agent. The much briefer “Caprice” is a perpetuum mobile of virtuoso oscillations and skitters.

Chee-Yun proved a soloist as virtuosic as the music, and as warmly lyrical in the first movement. Harth-Bedoya and his charges were alert and skilled collaborators.

Harth-Bedoya tends to be less satisfying in mainstream 18th- and 19th-century repertory, and the Dvorák Seventh Symphony wanted more interest in shaping phrases, and fortissimos not supercharged to Shostakovich intensities. Much flailing yielded some brass blasts that were downright vulgar. Winds were rather plain-spoken, and not ideally balanced or blended.

But Harth-Bedoya did allow more expressive expansion than usual, and the strings — violas and cellos especially — repeatedly impressed with polished tone and ensemble. The horns elegantly tapered their cameos.

Imagine a razzle-dazzle Latin-American answer to Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances. That was the encore: Danza fantástica, by the Chilean composer Enrique Soro, played as smartly and stirringly as could be imagined.