Cooper’s solo farewell the highlight of uneven DSO program
David Cooper, principal horn of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, stepped out of the back row and into the spotlight Thursday night at Meyerson Symphony Center to present a consistently captivating rendition of Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat with guest conductor Karina Canellakis.
Dallas-Fort Worth area music-lovers have been enjoying Cooper’s remarkable talents for several years since his arrival in the horn section of the Fort Worth Symphony in 2008 (moving over to the Dallas Symphony in 2011). He’ll be headed later this year to Germany as principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic for the 2017-18 season.
In this performance, Cooper demonstrated beyond doubt his readiness to assume one of the most significant jobs in the symphonic world. He made full use of the horn’s capabilities in Strauss’s tightly-knit concerto, exploiting the room’s unique acoustic—which Cooper knows so well—as well as carefully attended overtones to produce effects ranging from majesty to intimacy. He likewise clearly communicated the neatly delineated structure of the work—a sort of hybrid combining elements of Classical concerto form with romantic innovation—to preserve the work’s dual function as a showpiece for horn and a meaningful musical statement by the young composer.
In terms of timbre and dynamics, Cooper moved from an almost flute-like delicacy to clarion trumpet-like moments seamlessly. And he instinctively introduced that subtle touch of showmanship so valuable to a great soloist: for example, turning to the orchestra in the brief moments when this concerto becomes a chamber work, or allowing himself to even smile during his nonplaying interludes.
Cooper is clearly the sort of personality and musician the world of the horn could use right now. Though he’s moving up in the musical world, hopefully he’ll return to the region, where he has an impressive network of friendships and professional connections, in the future as a concerto soloist or recitalist.
Canellakis, returning to the Dallas podium for the first time this season, was considerably less impressive. The DSO’s former assistant conductor from 2014-16 opened the concert by blasting through Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, landing on the opening phrase at a volume level appropriate for the work’s final climax. The delicate, Haydnesque Scherzando took on a feverish quality, and the final movement was rambunctious and heavy-handed.
The orchestra generally supported Cooper’s concerto more than adequately, with particularly fine collaboration when individual musicians joined the soloist in obbligato passages.
However, Cannellakis once again showed little sensitivity to overall structure and momentum in the final work on the program, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, sacrificing momentum for noisy effect. While she carefully shaped the opening Andante, she followed up by persistently hammering every forte and accent in the piece; though there were some exciting and moving moments along the way in this masterpiece of twentieth-century music, the potential of the closing statement had been spent long before that moment arrived.
The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. mydso.com; 214-849-4376.