If you had closed your eyes to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert Thursday night, you might have imagined snapshots of an Italian countryside, a seaside, or Neapolitan festivities.
This musical trip – a welcome change for many of us who avoided travel abroad during the pandemic – was thanks to a rarely heard living Richard Strauss tale Italian Aus (From Italy), conducted by musical director Fabio Luisi. Opening with Carl Maria von Weber’s Oberon Overture, the first half of the Meyerson Symphony Center concert featured the 1989 Flute Concerto by American composer Joan Tower.
Luisi revealed a fondness for Strauss orchestral pieces. In his first gig as Music Director-Designate in 2019, he led the DSO in An Alpine Symphony, which his colleague Scott Cantrell called a “sonic extravaganza” in this journal. Luisi will conduct the orchestra to Strauss’ Don Juan To the gala concert on Saturday, and in Metamorphose in November.
Italian Aus recalls the places Strauss visited on a trip to Italy. Completed when Strauss was only 22 years old, the 47-minute work presents a series of symphonic poems structured like a four-movement symphony, testifying to the influences of Liszt and Wagner. Yet it also suggests the development of Strauss’s voice in luscious harmonies, details and sections of coloristic wind oscillating between mountain views and unfailing lyricism.
Promising signs manifested themselves from the start of the performance, when Luisi constructed muffled and radiating tones from the bottom to the top of the orchestra. Soon after, Luisi and the musicians bask in romantic effusions, while keeping the textures in motion.
Lively passages blazed in the second movement, which also featured sung melodies on the violins. Bringing out the dramatic impulses of the score, Luisi skillfully scaled the dynamics and made bold tempo changes, hesitating slightly before the crucial downbeats. In the finale, the musicians created a lot of excitement, but also breathed comic joy in the tarantella, a folk dance from southern Italy.
Balances have been thoughtfully taken into account throughout, Luisi reserving the power of the brass for resplendent climaxes. The first violins sometimes suffered from intonation and coordination problems, and the winds sometimes had difficulty in sounding the chords together in the third movement. After a year and a half of not playing at full capacity, it may take some time for the orchestra to return to its peak form.
Luisi and the DSO took an equally flexible and forceful approach to opening Weber. However, there too, there were overall problems. Maybe Sunday’s performance will be tighter.
Horn player Alexander Kienle demonstrated a round tone and appealing legato in his solos, and solo clarinetist Gregory Raden performed a tenderly lyrical solo.
The principal flautist of the DSO, David Buck, was the soloist of the concerto of the Tower. In a single 15-minute movement, with reduced winds and additional brass, the work alternates between the soloist playing alone and in dialogue with the orchestra, in turn cooperative and competitive. The first half or so of the piece is engaging, mixing reflective moods, lively rhythms and brassy growls. But Tower subsequently repeats swirling patterns that become dull over time.
Buck effortlessly pulled the calls for the score. In the dark and haunting overture, mainly in the low register of the flute, he displayed a rich, focused sound and a fluid sense of line. He later executed rash attacks when asked and fended off virtuoso demands. The orchestra sounded more tense and more precise than in the other readings.
Rehearsal at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. $ 34 to $ 174. The video stream will be available on October 12. Single concert $ 10; season pass $ 125. 214-849-4376, dallassymphony.org.