Dallas Symphony Orchestra Music Director Andrew
Litton is in great demand as a guest conductor and performer worldwide.
In his ninth season as Music director of the DSO, New York born Litton
is one of but a handful of Americans heading a major American orchestra
so, in part, at least one American work was expected.
William Schuman’s Fifth Symphony (Symphony
for Strings) was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation
and first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge
Koussevitzky on November 12th 1943. The first movement, Molto
agitato ed energico was described by Bernstein as "… rugged,
athletic" and this was just how it sounded under Litton and the
DSO. The versatile strings took on multi-layered textures from the refined
and the silky smooth to the raw, rough and grainy. This movement combined
taut, muscular rhythms, eschewing mere prettiness.
The strings in the Larghissimo had a melting
quality, dissolving from one level of intensity of tone and feeling
to another, whilst the highly concentrated closing passages were starkly
hushed. With the closing Presto the strings showed off their
vivacity and versatility, playing the pizzicato passages with great
verve; it was a blissful experience of a work which deserves to be better
Boris Berezovsky’s playing of Sergey Rachmaninov’s
Piano Concerto No.3 can only be described as problematical. It
was to be assumed that a Russian born and trained pianist would be ideally
suited to interpreting the work of this last, great Russian romantic
composer, but sadly this was not the case. This was not even the real
Rachmaninov, but a highly idiosyncratic reading which tended to distort
the work’s essential dynamic.
In the first movement, for instance, I found his
playing too heavy-handed, producing a hard metallic edge, whilst sounding
somewhat mechanical and detached. We were treated to some wonderfully
expressive string playing in the introduction to the Intermezzo (Adagio),
which was completely at odds with Berezovsky’s clangourous tone, and
his curious alternation between playing either excessively loudly or
far too quietly - almost to the point of inaudibility.
The Presto was crudely bashed out with
the notes sounding congested and indistinguishable, producing a lot
of noise but hardly any music, whilst again the quieter passages were
barely audible. What saved this movement was some subtle brass playing
and in the closing passages the swooning strings had great warmth and
weight. Whilst Berezovsky was near note-perfect, the delivery was somewhat
maladroit. The pianist’s contrived and indulgent playing was compensated
for by Litton’s loyal support, securing sensitive playing from his superb
Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird (1945 version)
gave the DSO a chance to show its true colours, with all the players
giving their utmost: notably some exquisite woodwind solos, and the
nerve shattering playing of the bass drum which caused some of the audience
to jump in the opening of the Infernal Dance. Litton perfectly
paced these 1945 fragments (which are seven minutes longer than the
1919 Suite) weaving them into a perfect, seamless whole.
Far from sounding like a standardised, streamlined
American orchestra, the DSO combined a refined, homogenised sound with
a grainy cutting edge to it. Litton adapted his forces extremely well
and despite the RFH’s notoriously recessed and dry acoustics, every
member of the orchestra sounded far more forward than one usually experiences,
allowing us to appreciate some marvellously detailed playing.
The highlights of the evening were the two encores:
George Gershwin’s Lullaby for Strings and The Promise of Living
from Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land, which were both given glowing