Dallas Symphony downsizes gracefully for Mozart program

Fri Mar 25, 2022 at 8:59 am
By J. Robin Coffelt
Bernard Labadie conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in an all-Mozart program Thursday night.

An all-Mozart program is invariably an easy crowd-pleaser offering accessible pleasures for all. But in the skillful hands of a specialist such as this weekend’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra guest conductor Bernard Labadie and pianist Benedetto Lupo, the populist music is elevated to something much more. 

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra is not, of course, a group that specializes in Classical-era performance practice. In the past several years, though, they have become increasingly skillful at navigating the stylistic demands of nearly any musical period, from early Baroque to the present day. Thursday’s concert was a largely delightful exhibition of that skill.

The program began with the Chaconne from Mozart’s opera Idomeneo. This court dance, which appears at the end of the opera, was a delightful bit of programming, providing a welcome respite from the oft-heard overtures that we might expect at the beginning of a concert. The orchestra, too, delivered the goods. Labadie, conducting while seated on an artist’s bench, elicited tight, crisp, focused sound from the DSO, never overbearing, never overdone. 

The promise of the opener was realized through the rest of the program, especially the Piano Concerto No. 23. 

Mozart wrote this concerto at the same time that he was composing Le nozze di Figaro, and it is a work of his maturity. K. 488 replaces the usual oboes with clarinets, and dispenses with trumpets and drums, which creates a peculiar intimacy in the opening Allegro, heightened by the poignant, minor-key slow movement.

Soloist Benedetto Lupo is a local favorite, having been a bronze medalist in the 1989 Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth. (As a point of historical interest, he is the highest-medaling competitor from that competition who is still performing. Gold medalist Alexei Sultanov died in 2005 after a series of strokes, while silver medalist José Carlos Cocarelli is now a Buddhist monk in France.)

Lupo has made a reputation in varied repertoire, but he is an especially renowned interpreter of Mozart. Occasionally his entrances were a bit heavy-handed, but for the most part his playing was nimble and controlled, without excessive rubato or flourish. 

The DSO found a sweet spot of tempo and style in the first two movements, with Labadie keeping a skillful balance between soloist and orchestra. The first and second violins, split on either side of the podium in Classical style, had a few ensemble problems possibly due to the uncharacteristic arrangement. Labadie and Lupo took the jolly final rondo at such a sprightly pace that woodwinds sometimes seemed to have trouble keeping up. But these are minor quibbles in what was generally an appropriately restrained, sensitive performance.

Last up on the program was Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, the “Jupiter,” his final work in the genre As in the concerto, the first and second violins took a bit of the first movement to really lock in their ensemble, but once they did, the results were spellbinding. Beautifully delicate playing from violins especially in the second and third movements, and effective ensemble for most of the final movement, despite a rollicking tempo, were highlights of this largely delightful performance. Overall, this was tighter Mozart than listeners have heard from this orchestra in past years.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. dallassymphony.org

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