Carter leads Fort Worth Symphony in idiomatic Elgar and Vaughan Williams

Sat Nov 11, 2017 at 1:06 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

Nicholas Carter conducted the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Friday night.

Chronologically close, but eons apart stylistically, works of Vaughan Williams, Elgar, and Shostakovich fit together neatly in a concert of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra led by Australian guest conductor Nicholas Carter at Bass Performance Hall Friday night.

Carter opened the program with Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, gently easing into the opening pianissimo to evoke the sense of mystery that pervades this work. The philosophical and structural underpinnings of this music for strings alone continue to impress a century after its premiere; multiple ensembles as well as interior “choirs” echo and answer to recreate the resonance of a cathedral acoustic. Simultaneously, modal harmonies and a melody from the Tudor era urge the listener to experience the intersection of past, present, and future.

The Fort Worth Symphony strings responded with rich resonance, turning Bass Hall temporarily into a plausible English cathedral. Although there are numerous passionate climaxes in the work, the pivotal moment arrived with the viola solo, presented here with a perfect blend of passion and serenity by principal Laura Bruton. Her solo was answered, briefly, by the solo violin, performed by associate concertmaster Swang Lin, who served as concertmaster for this performance. One or two less-than-razor-sharp entries barely disturbed the overall effect of grandeur and serenity as Carter, conducting without a baton, aimed toward the final sunburst and fading of radiant G major.

Uzbeki pianist Behzod Abduraimov joined Carter and the orchestra for Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with the orchestra’s principal trumpet Kyle Sherman up front for the prominent trumpet solo part. This is a concerto that adamantly refuses to seduce the listener; Shostakovich, here writing in the early, optimistic years of the Soviet regime, evokes the baroque concerto grosso and avoids any hints of romanticism–even in the lament-like Lento. While this concerto can decline rapidly into a series of thorny technical exercises, pianist Abduraimov aovided that pitfall with a richly varied command of timbre, even while tossing off the sometimes breathtaking passagework. Trumpeter Sherman provided a sturdy collaboration with a solid, attractive tone, while conductor Carter and the strings (this concerto calls for no winds other than the trumpet) produced the steady foundation for the pianist’s rollicking adventures.

After intermission, the program took a sharp U-turn toward Late Romanticism with Elgar’s Enigma Variations. (One might observe that, along about 1934, one could have heard all three of these works on a concert of music of living composers.) Conductor Carter discovered a delicate counterpoint not only of thematic material but of timbral color in the opening statement.

After a long period of relegation to the edge of the repertoire, the music of Elgar has rightfully regained ground with audiences in the 21st century. In this performance, the listener could be aware of the heady mixture of late Victorian delicacy and whimsy with quick journeys into awe and grandeur. Inspired by various personal friendships, Elgar here reminds us of the underlying profundity of simple human interaction. Conductor Carter found the perfect pacing throughout —for instance, in pausing for a good quarter of a minute after the sublime “Nimrod” variation. One would, indeed, like to hear more of Carter in the British repertoire in which he clearly excels.

Principal violist Bruton once again was in the spotlight with her gracefully mellow obbligato in the sixth variation; clarinetist Ivan Petruzziello performed, with fine serenity and beautiful tone in the notabl quotation from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage in the twelfth variation. Elgar, in this performance aided by conductor Carter’s superb timing and insight, urges the listener forward on the voyage of life, as well as toward the final grand moments of this work.

The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Bass Performance Hall.; 817-665-6000.

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