Luisi brings command, precision to Dallas Symphony program

Fri Apr 19, 2019 at 12:17 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

Music director designate Fabio Luisi conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Thursday night. File photo: Barbara Luisi

Dallas Symphony Orchestra music director designate Fabio Luisi will step onto the podium as the orchestra’s fulltime music director orchestra in the fall of 2020. This weekend, however, he reintroduces himself to the orchestra and the audience with a set of two non-subscription concerts at Meyerson Symphony Center, the first of which took place Thursday night. The program was clearly designed to demonstrate Luisi’s range and personality as a conductor, including a touch of unexpected musical eclecticism.

Italian-born Luisi, largely known as a conductor of opera, opened with a quintessentially American work. Mississippi-born William Grant Still created a link from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s to the classical music establishment with a body of work folding a sense of the depth of the African American experience into late romantic orchestral style.

His 15-minute Poem from 1944 draws on lavish, Brucknerian orchestration and late romantic chromaticism, but with a melodicism clearly inspired by African American spirituals; Luisi, with an elegantly efficient and precise podium presence created a convincingly rhapsodic aura—and gave Dallas music lovers a glimpse of a unique segment of America’s musical heritage.

For contrast to the Still Poem, Luisi turned to another work from the 1940s, Swiss-born Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion, and Strings. Principals from the orchestra’s wind section stood in front of the much-reduced string section for this work’s lean neo-classicism; Martin eschewed traditional lyricism here for relentless energy and exploration of musical timbres and rhythms.

The first movement turns the spotlight on each of the wind players by turn, providing a fine showcase for each of these musicians, and demonstrating Luisi’s command and sensitivity to the possibilities of these musicians in this particular acoustic. Flutist David Buck’s substantial but sweet tone was particularly prominent in an outstanding ensemble of orchestra musicians functioning as soloists.

The work likewise demands an exquisite sense of pacing from the conductor, which Luisi displayed as he built the delicate but relentless march of the middle movement, complying with Martin’s instruction of misterioso ed elegante in the score. And Luisi carried his sense of the work’s structure into the chameleon moods and final exclamatory cadence of the Allegro vivace finale.

After these two relative rarities from the twentieth-century repertoire, Luisi turned to Beethoven’s monumental Symphony No. 7. The Italian conductor shaped the ascending scale motif in the introduction with breathtaking intensity. However, with a large full post-classical-size orchestra onstage, Luisi overshot dynamic levels in the main exposition, leaving little space for expansion in the recapitulation.

The grand variations of the second movement, the heart of this symphony, emerged with its full somber majesty, perfectly balanced in the interplay of timbres and dynamic levels; in the Presto third movement, Luisi found the exuberance as well as the drama implied in those magnificently contrasting sustained notes.

Luisi took the final Allegro con brio at a somewhat quicker pace than Beethoven’s metronome marking, with relentlessly heavy accents; the orchestra responded with precision, resulting in a performance that was, while not completely authentic by contemporary standards, reasonably thrilling.

We’ll hear considerably more of Luisi in the 2019-20 season; while his Beethoven was questionable in some aspects, his imaginative programing and technically precise and dramatic approach are indeed promising for the orchestra’s future.

The program will be repeated Friday at 7:30 pm at Meyerson Symphony Center.; 214-692-0203.


One Response to “Luisi brings command, precision to Dallas Symphony program”

  1. Posted Apr 20, 2019 at 8:25 pm by Nancy Elledge

    I think Fabio Luisi is a fabulous addition to the ARTS
    in Dallas and for The Dallas Symphony……the orchestra
    played Friday night with great sensitivity……while
    under the last conductor the orchestra sounded like they
    were terrified of the conductor and afraid to “make music”..

    Thrilled to have a new conductor…… a real plus for Dallas.

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