Norwegian conductor impressive in Dallas Symphony debut 

Fri Jan 19, 2024 at 1:13 pm
By Stuart Cheney
Tabita Berglund conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Thursday night in her local debut. Photo: Nikolaj Lund

Norwegian conductor Tabita Berglund made an impressive debut Thursday night, leading the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in a Viennese program featuring two leading composers of the milieu.

Having completed her conducting studies in Norway just five years ago, Berglund currently serves as principal guest conductor of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra. She has conducted all over Western Europe and recently made her U.S. debut in Detroit.

Mozart completed the Overture to The Magic Flute just two days before the opera’s 1791 premiere. Under Berglund’s direction, the DSO’s rendition was crisp and punchy, displaying the clarity of the counterpoint. The woodwinds and brass were rich and full-bodied, while string parts were velvety. The serene Classical poise, however, didn’t quite make up for the straitened dynamic range and lack of drama.

Alessio Bax, a former piano professor at SMU who currently teaches at the New England Conservatory, returned to Dallas as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major. K. 467 dates from March 1785, near the beginning of the composer’s Vienna years. 

Alessio Bax performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 Thursday night. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Bax’s playing was measured and assured in the opening movement, his light touch retaining a Classical elegance. A consummate chamber musician, Bax was sensitive to the orchestra throughout. The slow movement was gorgeous, with Berglund drawing a light and airy accompaniment, as with the gentle string pizzicatos under the soloist, as Bax phrased with subtle dynamic contrasts. 

The buoyant violins gracefully lifted the third movement, as did Bax’s crystal-clear delivery. The pianist brought fresh variety in each appearance of the rondo main theme, and Berglund achieved a fine balance between the orchestra and soloist.

The ovations brought Bax back out for an offbeat duo encore, with Bax joined by concertmaster Nathan Olson in the slow movement of Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E minor, K.304.

After intermission, the Classical-sized orchestra expanded for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Berglund led a lofty slow introduction and robust Allegro in the first movement, though the otherwise taut ensemble unraveled briefly during the development section. For the second movement, the lower strings delivered an apt somber expression, enhanced by pristine woodwinds and lush horns.

The third-movement scherzo was nimble but rousing, benefiting from a superb oboe solo by Erin Hannigan. Expertly balanced trumpets and horns supported the trio section. In the boisterous and majestic finale, timpanist Brian Jones’s punctuations lent the right energy, while Berglund adeptly coordinated the interplay among each of the string sections.

Berglund’s youthful exuberance is among her most obvious attributes, along with her restrained yet spirited podium style. She is a name to keep an eye on.

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

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