A glorious Rachmaninoff Second Symphony from van Zweden, DSO
By: Scott Cantrell
Every once in a while a concert just makes you glad to be alive.
One of those happened Thursday night at the Meyerson Symphony Center, thanks to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. With music director Jaap van Zweden in charge, we were treated to fine music, brilliantly and lovingly played, in acoustics that lent warmth and glow.
In one of history's more spectacular critical misjudgments, the 1954 edition of The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians dismissed the music of Rachmaninoff as "monotonous in texture," with "artificial and gushing tunes." But what's not to love — indeed, admire — about the composer's Second Symphony?
"Artificial? "Gushing?" No, the gift of great melody is given to few composers, and Rachmaninoff here fairly luxuriates in it. Lush harmonies are products of sophisticated contrapuntal complexity.
Again and again, multiple strands are woven into passing crunches that register not as great dissonances, but as the most exquisite of tensions. The mastery of orchestration is consummate. Is there a more glorious slow movement in all of Western music?
Van Zweden seemed to have all this in his blood, but also to understand — and attend to — fine details of balance and harmony often washed over by lesser conductors. I hear the opening of the second movement a notch or two slower — it felt a little frantic — but tempos in the first movement, which can easily go slack, were flawlessly gauged.
Right from the start, there was visceral urgency, even apt restlessness. Even at its most sublimely lyrical, the music always pressed onward. This was passionate music-making, the orchestra playing gloriously. Van Zweden built up white-hot sounds from the strings, even in climaxes keeping brasses in perfect balance.
There were eloquent solos from clarinetist Gregory Raden, beautifully answered by bassoonist Ted Soluri and flutist David Buck. Roger Kaza, from the St. Louis Symphony, was the fabulous guest principal horn. If we can't have David Cooper back from the Berlin Philharmonic, can we lure Kaza here?