Electricity is in the air as van Zweden ends his DSO tenure with super-size sounds of Beethoven

Dallas Morning News
By: Scott Cantrell 

From his very first appearance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, as a guest conductor in February 2006, it was clear that Jaap van Zweden was no ordinary time-beater. Overnight, he got new tonal richness out of the orchestra, new focus and intensity, new attention to detail.

As he began the end of his 10-year tenure as DSO music director Thursday night, all of that was on display, plus a decade of accumulated growth. It was the first of three performances of a program including the Beethoven Ninth Symphony and a new Violin Concerto No. 2 by 44-year-old American composer Jonathan Leshnoff. 

Electricity was palpable in the well-filled Meyerson Symphony Center, and a long, roaring ovation exploded at the end of the Beethoven.

Tuneful, toe-tapping, vividly rhythmic, the Leshnoff is a most appealing work: neoclassical Stravinsky meets Samuel Barber meets minimalism. In a symphonic four-movement sequence, with slow movement and scherzo in the middle, it makes much of repetitive pulsings in the orchestra.

But it's minimalism with a lot of rhythmic interest — rapidly shifting meters and syncopations — and telling interplays between the soloist and, particularly, the cellos. There's plenty of flashy stuff for the violin, but also soaring lyricism. The slow movement and finale could use a little tightening, though.

Co-commissioned by the DSO and the Harrisburg (Pa.) Symphony, it was a showpiece for DSO concertmaster Alexander Kerr, who played with the utmost tonal finesse, sweetly singing phrases balancing flawless virtuosity. His instrument doesn't have a huge sound, though, and the orchestra sometimes could have been more reserved. But van Zweden and the orchestra managed a tricky score with impressive authority.

The symphony provided an over-the-top performance, almost more Mahlerian than Beethovenian. We got a super-size orchestra, doubling the specified winds and trumpets, adding a ninth double bass. The Dallas Symphony Chorus filled the choral terrace and even the choral galleries above.

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