FORT WORTH -- Despite the title of the closing work, there was nothing puzzling about this concert.Guest conductor Stefan Asbury led the Fort Worth Symphony through a program that opened with a short Stravinsky symphony and closed with Elgar's famous Enigma Variations (with a nice little Mozart concerto in between) at Bass Hall on Friday.Igor Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic during World War II. The chaos into which it was born was reflected in the brash, angular opening movement. Asbury, who is chief conductor of the Noord Nederlands Orkest (or "North Netherlands Orchestra" to us), demonstrated a particularly good feel for Stravinsky's quirky rhythms in that first movement. A slightly lighter tone was found in the second movement, thanks to its generous harp part (performed by a harpist not named in the program). The metallic edges and darkness returned in the closing movement, which concluded the 24-minute piece with a loud, collective crash. Ultimately, it was one of those works that was more interesting than enjoyable -- an observation that can be made about entirely too many early and mid-20th century pieces.It was followed by a delicate piece of Classical Era froth, Mozart's Oboe Concert in C Major, featuring Jennifer Corning Lucio, the symphony's principal oboist. Worlds removed from the Stravinsky, the concerto performance was graced with a lovely tone and plenty of virtuoso puffing from Lucio, who glided through Mozart's typically dense score with seeming ease. She also did a dandy job on the work's three cadenzas (solo passages), which she composed. They were fresh and modern without straying too far from Mozart's original plan.For his part, Asbury took things a bit slowly. The opening movement, especially, is sometimes heard with a generally sharper attack and more spritely give-and-take between soloist and orchestra than was the case Friday. But his careful approach was consistent and resulted in a more flowing and fluid take on the piece, so it is hard to find fault with it. The second movement is marked adagio non troppo (slow, but not too much so). Asbury sort of threw out the "non troppo" part and went with "adagio." But it proved a winning strategy because the audience seemed to be most intensely involved in the performance during that movement. The closing section had some of the zest I would have liked to have heard in the first movement, and wrapped up things brightly.The concert concluded with Variations on an Original Theme by late 19th-early 20th century British composer Edward Elgar, much better known as the Enigma Variations because of some missing, but related, elements that the composer steadfastly refused to explain.But today's conductors and orchestras don't have to worry about figuring out this piece. All they have to do is get the Nimrod section right -- which Asbury and company did. That part, Variation IX, features the haunting theme by which this work as a whole is known. It was rendered gorgeously, as were all of the variations (there are 16 in all) that featured the string players in particular.Asbury seemed to be comfortable and in command of the orchestra. But there were some little touches we have come to expect at symphony performances that were missing. He did not, for example, identify specific players in the orchestra during the applause following each work, and he never spoke to the audience, as music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya so often does.Since the Stravinsky was more for the mind than the ears, the Mozart strove to please more than dazzle and the Elgar was perhaps too familiar, it was not a concert that left the audience breathless. But it was satisfying overall in that it covered a lot of ground (the Classical, Romantic and Modern eras were all well represented) and did justice to everything it took on.And, no matter what kind of shenanigans Elgar tried to pull, nobody left the hall confused.
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday