Texas Classical Review » Blog Archive » Dallas Symphony soars with premiere of Macmillan and enthralling Bruckner

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Nicola Benedetti performed the American premiere of James MacMillan’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with Fabio Luisi and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Sylvia Elfazon

This week’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra program may not have drawn large crowds to the Meyerson Symphony Center on Friday night, but there was no shortage of musical excellence, with a program including an American premiere, conducted by DSO’s musical director, Fabio Luisi.

Sir James MacMillan’s Violin Concerto No. 2 was the new work on the menu. Written in 2021 by the Scottish composer, the work received its world premiere two months ago, performed by Nicola Benedetti with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. (The Dallas Symphony is co-curator of the work with the Scottish ensemble and two other orchestras).

The concerto is cast in a single movement of 24 minutes. The three chords that open the work are richly developed, covering a series of emotional landscapes and moods. MacMillan’s eclectic musical language, marked by firm direct emotion, is an elegant marriage of the modern and the traditional, often transforming simple ideas into complex textures without sacrificing accessibility.

The heterogony of his style is experienced in striking technicolor like Benedetti, for whom the solo line was written, elegantly weaving shimmering lyricism with austere austerity. The soloist was a steadfast defender, by turns affectionate and attentive, as the piece moved through fluid, militaristic textures, connected by a series of virtuoso transitions.

Luisi and the DSO have always been friendly partners. As the work approached its finale, an energetic passage featured several DSO musicians in a series of duets with Benedetti, all of which were delivered deftly before reaching a beautifully placid end.

The second half of the program was dominated by Anton Bruckner’s huge Symphony No. 4. Subtitled “Romantic” by Bruckner himself, the story of this 64-minute work – and the material itself, for that matter – characterizes the author’s entire symphonic career, which has been marked by a mass ulterior motives, deletions, additions, reorchestrations, revisions and new versions

His Fourth Symphony, which will be the first of his great compositions to bring him great success, will last for nearly 15 years, with no less than seven versions and revisions listed by researchers. The most performed 1878-1880 version was used for this concert program.

Luisi and the DSO did well to capture the expansive soundscapes of every move. Moreover, the orchestra skilfully navigated the frequent and sudden changes in tone and mood reminiscent of Bruckner’s indecisiveness.

Tremolo strings opened the first movement with a soft backdrop before which a beautiful horn solo sounded the main theme, which opened with the characteristic rhythmic figure often used by Bruckner. The melancholy second movement saw a beautiful duet between DSO associate principal flautist Hayley Grainger and principal oboist Erin Hannigan before an austere funeral march, led by string sections.

The scherzo and the trio of the third movement wonderfully described the lively hunting atmosphere. The finale, marked by horn fanfares, beautiful dynamic swells and dizzying thematic about-faces, was delivered with skill and finesse before a stylish and resounding coda.

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

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