Mixed rewards with light desserts from Grams, DSO

Sat Nov 24, 2018 at 12:24 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

Andrew Grams conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Friday night.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andrew Grams served up a post-Thanksgiving meal of desserts only Friday night at Meyerson Symphony Center, with a heavy dash of bombast from the conductor and a few moments of genuine insight along the way.

Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores represent the apex of that particular genre, and part of the genius of those scores lies in the fact that Tchaikovsky knew exactly what he was writing: descriptive music to accompany and enliven the silent narration onstage. Friday’s concert pulled substantial chunks of two of those ballet scores—Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker–out of their natural home in the orchestra pit and landed them onstage as concert works.

The result was at time intriguing, occasionally puzzling, and ultimately unsatisfying. Conductor Grams (himself a veteran of the violin section of the New York City Ballet) all too often lost sight of the instrumental delicacies Tchaikovsky serves up here, starting with the hair-raising volume with which he blasted out the first item on the program, the Prologue to Sleeping Beauty. To his credit, Grams drew a beautifully smooth tone from the string section on those arching Tchaikovsky tunes, notwithstanding some rough entries from the orchestra as a whole.

After the opening volley of the Prologue, the Grande Valse, and the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty, soloist Andrew von Oeyen joined Grams and the orchestra for another familiar item from the high romantic hit parade, Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor.

Grieg here married inspired tunes and grand gestures to a solid classical structure, resulting in a work that served as a mainstay of the concerto repertoire through much of the 20th century. Here, for the most part, conductor Grams ceded the spotlight to pianist Von Oeyen, who brought a sure technique and easy grasp of the romantic sensibilities of this showpiece; together, they leaned toward energetic accents assertive phrasing, emphasizing the folk-inspired elements of the work.

For his part, pianist Von Oeyen created a nicely thunderous aura in the first movement cadenza (using Percy Grainger’s slightly dressed-up version of that segment); the high point of the entire concert arrived in the lyrical Adagio, with fine collaboration between Von Oeyen and assistant principal horn Alexander Kienle in that gorgeously nostalgic duet passage.

After intermission, Grams and the orchestra returned to Tchaikovsky with twelve movements from The Nutcracker. The result was frequently engaging but never completely convincing; Grams once again relied on outsized gestures but never created meaningful momentum, consistently overlooking or underplaying the more subtle delicacies of the score. As with the concert as a whole, pleasant moments abounded, but variety, intellectual substance, and the sense of artistic vision that are the heart of an orchestral concert were largely absent.

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

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