It would be hard to think of a greater contrast than that between the first and last parts of Friday night’s concert by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
The contrast was not only stylistic — the elegance of Mozart versus the bombast of Shostakovich — but contrasts within a single piece.
Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, “The Year 1905,” is not often played outside of Russia (I believe Friday’s was my first hearing of the work in live performance).
But the experience of hearing other symphonic compositions by Shostakovich led to certain expectations. Among them were that there would be expressions of bitter irony, angry use of the full orchestra, an avoidance of any trace of sentimentality and a dwelling on a historical subject.
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There is certainly that last element in “The Year 1905.” It’s a musical commentary on a revolutionary incident in Russia in the years before Stalin instituted something much worse.
The first 20 minutes or so of Friday night’s performance of the work were a surprise. Shostakovich was engaging in musical understatement rather than bombast. There were seductive melodic ideas of the kind rare in the composer’s music. There were some effective abrupt shifts in dynamics and other interesting details.
Alas, after that, the more familiar Shostakovich took over, and as the one-hour mark approached, was becoming an ordeal.
A guest conductor, Andrew Grams, was at the helm for the performance in Bass Hall. He served Shostakovich’s interests well, as did the expanded orchestra, which occasionally tested the acoustical capabilities of the hall. This is one work that lets all sections of the orchestra have a share of the spotlight.
The evening opened with a lovely performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3, with Karen Gomyo as soloist. This was one performance that didn’t overstay its welcome.
As usual, there were repetitions of the program scheduled for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.