DSO program deftly mixes favorite Rachmaninoff and challenging Shostakovich

Fri May 17, 2024 at 1:22 pm
By William McGInney
Andris Poga conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Thursday night.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra hosted two worthy guest artists as part of a wide-ranging program. Conductor Andris Poga led the orchestra in performances of Lili Boulanger’s D’un Matin de printemps and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15, with Behzod Abduraimov as solo protagonist in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Poga is chief conductor of the Savanger Symphony Orchestra in Norway, having served as music director of the Latvian National Orchestra from 2013 until 2021.  Abduraimov has performed extensively both with internationally renowned orchestras and as a recital soloist following his first prize win at the London Piano Competition in 2009.

Boulanger’s tone poem D’un Matin de printemps began the program with sounds evoking French Impressionism, evident in the highly colorful orchestral writing and ambiguous, whole-tone harmonies that recall the Nocturnes of Debussy.  The delicate textures heard throughout its three-part structure featured a brief dialogue between concertmaster Nathan Olson and principal second violinist Angela Fuller Heyde.

Abduraimov and the DSO under the baton of Pago did not disappoint in Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody. The solo piano part runs the gamut of virtuosic textures from rapid scales and arpeggios to dramatic melodies rendered in octaves to thundering block chords.  Abduraimov executed all the complexities flawlessly, and rhythmically and dynamically, Poga and the orchestra were right with him, matching his precision and clarity. The 18th variation was rendered with subtle dynamics that allowed this passage to achieve an appropriate level of expression without exaggeration. 

The program concluded with the Symphony No. 15 of Shostakovich. Like much of Shostakovich’s later music, the Fifteenth uses unusual formal designs, dissonant melodies and underlying harmonies, and a variety of musical quotations that render the piece enigmatic and often puzzling.

Thursday night’s performance was excellent, however, and spotlighted multiple instrumental sections and individual soloists in the course of realizing Shostakovich’s uncompromising work.

The first movement consisted principally of angular melody fragments that are sounded successively by various instruments and combinations, resulting in an almost “clockwork” texture—like a toyshop under a cloudless sky.”  Poga and the DSO managed to maintain the disorienting character of this perpetual motion with a suppleness that avoided becoming too mechanical or frantic.

The second movement brought a funereal character, embodied primarily in a dialogue between a formal chorale sounded in the lower brass alternating with more intimate and despondent declamations sounded by principal cellist Christopher Adkins.  This movement gradually built to a climax that collapsed to near silence, after which bassoons initiated the Scherzo.  This movement was dominated by a strident melody heard first from principal clarinetist Gregory Raden, then taken up and expounded upon by the rest of the orchestra over a relentless rhythmic accompaniment reminiscent of the first movement.

The finale similarly recalled the character of the second movement with its solemnity and slow tempo, again highlighting the low brass with quotations of the Fate motif from Wagner’s Ring.  Although more tuneful than the second movement, due largely to additional quotations from Glinka, the climax reached in the finale also dissolved into ultimate silence, which Poga held for a noticeably long interval before relaxing to acknowledge the applause of the audience. 

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. dallassymphony.org

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