Karabits and a low-key Carpenter team up for organ-rich Dallas Symphony program

Sat Feb 29, 2020 at 1:05 pm
By Richard Sylvester Oliver
Kirill Karabits conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in music of Jongen and Tchaikovsky Thursday night in Meyerson Symphony Center.

In a double-bill showcasing the Meyerson Symphony Center’s Lay Family Concert Organ, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra hosted organist Cameron Carpenter and guest conductor Kirill Karabits in music of Tchaikovsky and Jongen Thursday night.

Often branded by the musical press as “controversial” and “unconventional” for his flamboyant stylings and performance practices, Carpenter’s performance Thursday night was relatively conservative—thoughtfully tempered, technically impressive, and an enlivening display of the instrument’s range and versatility.

The first half of the program featured Joseph Jongen’s Symphonie Concertante. Commonly referred to as a symphony for two orchestras, the 1926 work positions the organ as an unrestricted foil to the orchestra, and Carpenter’s interpretation showed the instrument’s ability to expand and enrich the usual concerto textures.

The stern opening fugue of the first movement was given by the strings before being answered by a stately proclamation by the organ. There were a few muddled moments  but Karabits’ drive and dynamic control largely made effective use of the open space provided by the raised acoustical canopy in the concert hall, which exposed the organ and allowed for clear contrapuntal exchanges between organ and orchestra. Through the second movement Carpenter’s playing was smooth and well-blended against the more spirited orchestral texture.

The third movement, marked Molto Lento, was a lovely display of textural fusion. Opening with a dreamy and harmonically rich solo by principal flutist David Buck, the brass and organ soon  erupted into an expressive climax. The virtuosic finale was a bit overwhelming in volume, but Carpenter’s bravura led the way through to a bold, glittering finish.

The second half of the program was devoted to Tchaikovsky’s hour-long Manfred Symphony. The four-movement programmatic work, which Tchaikovsky refers to as his “finest symphonic composition,” is based on Lord Byron’s poetic drama of the same name. It tells the story of Manfred, who, tormented by questions of existence and a haunting past, has secluded himself in the mountains and taken up the occult sciences. His shadowy, supernatural powers bring him little respite, until the ghost of his lost love, Astarte, finally visits him. After being forgiven for his past crimes, he welcomes his long-awaited death. 

Karabits’ interpretation of the score yielded an exemplary musical storytelling and showed the Dallas Symphony  musicians at their finest. The conductor’s use of layering through the first movement established a clear and compelling narrative with moments of tension that explode into brief climaxes. The controlled scurry of light, buoyant strings and playful flute and piccolo through the second movement provided lift and a clear bit of fantasy.

The pastoral third movement offered a stirring oboe feature and a beautiful horn solo. The obbligato accompaniment in strings on the main melody was bright and masterfully done.

The rousing fourth movement moves through the full range of orchestral emotive prowess. Karabits moves the ensemble through frenetic dance-like passages to moments of eerie stillness with grace. His use of pauses, gravid with anticipation, is effective. Sustained triple fortes in the strings drive the narrative forward until glistening phrases from the harps bloom through the texture to present the image of Astarte’s descent from Heaven. 

Carpenter rejoined the company to deliver Manfred’s death scene on organ before a subdued closing remark in winds and horns. Manfred is a behemoth of a work, and Thursday night’s performance offered a stunning display of the DSO’s corporate musical skill and stamina.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. mydso.com; 214-849-4376.

Leave a Comment