Brahms and Dvorak highlight first night of Fort Worth orchestra’s August festival

Posted Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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The official opening of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s season is still three weeks off, but for the last few years there has been a sort of prelude in the form of a three-day August festival.

Friday night, the 2014 festival kicked off with music of two old friends, Brahms and Dvorak. The two will continue to be spotlighted in programs on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in Bass Hall.

The word friends is meant literally. Brahms, who was older, first became aware of Dvorak when he looked over some scores submitted by the younger man with a grant application. Brahms recommended him highly and quickly became a fan. He even went so far as to proof-read some of Dvorak’s first editions. It’s hard to imagine him doing that for any other composer.

Friday night’s program opened with a work that’s about as close to being rare as the orchestra is going to get in this series. It was Dvorak’s Othello Overture, a tone poem that’s one-third of a trilogy. Another of the three, the Carnival Overture, is much better known (it’s one work that comes close to being overplayed). Why Othello gets short shrift is a musical mystery. It’s strongly appealing and not deficient in any way.

The performance of the orchestra and conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya did it justice. You wouldn’t know that there had been a summer break; the playing was cohesive, with notable unity in the strings and impressive woodwind sounds, among other things. Harth-Bedoya made it quite a dramatic experience.

An artist who has become familiar to Fort Worth Symphony audiences, violinist Augustin Hadelich, was the soloist in Brahms’ concerto for his instrument. It was a surprisingly gentle performance by both soloist and orchestra, with Hadelich’s benign approach emphasizing the work’s many lyrical beauties without pushing for drama. The final movement was the most energetic.

Some lovely sounds for oboe (Jennifer Corning Lucio) and violin (Michael Shih) were highlights of the orchestral performance.

Those who were wanting some fireworks got more than their money’s worth with Hadelich’s encore, a brilliant and dazzlingly playful account of Paganini’s Caprice No. 5. It brought down the house.

Hadelich’s Sunday performance of Dvorak’s gorgeous Violin Concerto is something to look forward to.

Friday night’s concert ended with one of the surefire audience favorites: Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Harth-Bedoya molded it nicely with a highly energetic performance that created both drama and harmonic and melodic beauty. The horns were in particularly fine shape and, of course, the English horn (Jane Owen, I assume) scored points with the work’s most famous theme.

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