On a night of sonic blockbusters, Jackiw’s poetic artistry stands out with DSO

Fri Mar 08, 2019 at 1:45 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

Stefan Jackiw performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Thursday night.

A heavy reliance on programmatic tone poems made for an oddly unbalanced evening Thursday at Meyerson Symphony Center, as Slovak-born conductor Juraj Valcuha made his Dallas Symphony Orchestra debut.

The fortissimo blast and lightning-quick chromatic shift of Richard Strauss’s early tone poem Don Juan opened the concert; Strauss’s intention to throw the listener aurally off-balance still shocks 130 years after the work’s premiere. Valcuha boldly poured the full force of the orchestra into the opening phrase, certainly getting our attention but, as is often the case with a flashy beginning, leaving little surprise or power for the final iteration of that opening theme eighteen minutes later.

However, Strauss provides plenty of opportunities for symphonic virtuosity in this musical portrayal of sensual indulgence, and Valcuha and the Dallas Symphony produced numerous striking moments along the way. The expansive, Wagneresque second theme came across thrillingly, and principal oboe Erin Hannigan laid out her extended solo  with confident lyricism. Likewise, the horn section delivered its key moments handsomely.

Violinist Stefan Jackiw joined Valcuha and the orchestra for Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto; Valcuha chose to retain the full string section from the Strauss, and Jackiw responded with a suitably assertive tone and presence to match. 

After the dark shades of the opening theme, Jackiw provided an intensely shaped rendition of the more poetic second theme; the cadenza of the same movement showed off not only extraordinary sensitivity to Mendelssohn’s lyricism, but an appropriate breadth of tone and timbre from Jackiw. He followed up with a gorgeously spun line in the Andante, balancing the underlying early romantic sentiment of the movement with sturdy tone and technique.

Unfortunately, the orchestra and soloist failed to maintain the precision necessary in the final movement; what had been an impressive rendition of this monument of the concerto repertoire became fitfully technically messy.

Jackiw responded to an enthusiastic audience ovation with an encore in the form of the Largo from J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata in C major, producing what was in many ways the high point of the evening. There, Jackiw uncovered the intense emotion of Bach’s gentle two-voiced counterpoint with flawless control and subtle passion.

Juraj Valcuha

After intermission, Valcuha brought out two of Respighi’s oft-repeated and audience-beloved tone poems, Fontana di Roma and Pini di Roma. Performing the two works without pause, he created at least the outward appearance of a substantial forty-minute tone poem. Respighi was a superb orchestrator, and the Dallas Symphony and Valcuha were in top form for this colorful sight-seeing tour of various monuments and historic sites of Rome; fans of glitzy musical snapshots of this sort could certainly enjoy this feast of symphonic special effects. 

But for this listener, forty minutes of Respighi’s bland melodies, predictable harmonic progressions, heavy-handed repetition, and gimmicks including recorded birdcalls and brass ensemble in the choral terrace, were about thirty-five minutes too much.

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

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