With van Zweden’s return and Weilerstein as soloist, Dallas Symphony is in top form

Sat Nov 25, 2017 at 12:54 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

Jaap van Zweden conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Friday night.

Jaap van Zweden returned to the podium of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Friday night at Meyerson Symphony Center after an absence of eight weeks; one week after a sometimes sloppy, mishap-prone concert under guest conductor Jun Märkl, the orchestra returned to the characteristic precision and beauty of tone the ensemble has acquired under its music director’s soon-to-end tenure of nine years.

In spite of the slightly odd combination of Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra and Schumann’s Third Symphony, Friday’s performance came across as a showcase for these two contrasting works as well as for the orchestra, conductor Van Zweden, and cellist Alissa Weilerstein.

Weilerstein announced herself with an assertive depth of tone colored by a rich, dramatic vibrato; throughout the extended first movement, she maintained relentless energy while convincingly shaping Prokofiev’s often soaring lyricism. Van Zweden and the orchestra provided an appropriately muscular but focused support through Prokofiev’s constant shifts of mood and harmonic twists.

The composer’s moodiness becomes more intense in the second movement, while continuing the relentless technical demands on the soloist; Weilerstein met the demands with ease and panache, but still sliding readily into the heart-breaking Slavic lyricism of the second theme. In the third and final movement, Prokofiev presents an even more impassioned juxtaposition of symphonic beauty with a desperate, satirical response to Stalinism; here, van Zweden and Weilerstein produced the momentum that is the special territory of a great conductor in collaboration with a great soloist.

While Robert Schumann’s Third Symphony has never acquired the iconic popularity of a handful of other nineteenth-century symphonies, it can emerge as a masterpiece of the first rank in the hands of the right conductor, which was certainly the case at Friday’s concert. Van Zweden placed the symphony exactly where it belongs, halfway between Beethoven and Mahler, pouring an unrestrained exuberance into Schumann’s in media res introduction; he quickly followed up with an impressive delineation of the rich counterpoint that raises this work from a symphonic also-ran to a major compositional achievement.

Van Zweden admirably captured the sense of middle European folk life and landscape anticipating Dvorak in the second movement, and created a lieder-like, sometimes Mozartian lyricism of the third. Likewise, he carefully colored the chorale-like procession of the fourth, with its quietly grand conversation between the sections and choirs of the orchestra, before landing in the swift Beethovenian finale.

Van Zweden, in short, created a perfect balance of attention to detail, opulent orchestral sound, and momentum through the five succinct movements; the orchestra was in top form throughout, while the horn section, which carries a huge load through the work, produced the burnished aura essential to the success in performance of this valedictory symphonic statement by Schumann.

The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Meyerson Symphony Center. mydso.org; 214-692-0203.

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