Van Zweden and cellist Weilerstein opened with brilliance at the Dallas Symphony, but then ...

Dallas Morning News
by: Scott Cantrell

The boss was back Friday night, and what a difference it made. After an astonishingly scruffy Nov. 16 concert, led by guest conductor Jun Märkl, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was back in fine fettle Friday under music director Jaap van Zweden.  (Because of Thanksgiving, this was the first performance of this program.)

The first half of the concert, at the Meyerson Symphony Center, fairly crackled with van Zweden's trademark electricity. The second half, surprisingly, was quite another story. 

For a piece as rarely performed as Prokofiev's Sinfonia concertante for cello and orchestra, it was surprising to see it programmed again this week, only four years after its last DSO performance. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians dismisses it, along with several other late works, as "curiously colorless, and conspicuous for an almost excessive tendency to simplicity."

To me, actually, the problem is rambling incoherence. There are plenty of ideas, flashes of orchestral brilliance and contrapuntal wizardry, but inspiration is uneven and it all feels patched together. 

It is, after all, an extensive second revision of a cello concerto that bombed at its 1939 premiere. By the time of this 1951 version Prokofiev was in ill health and living in fear of Soviet artistic censorship, even death threats.

It is, however, a cellist's showpiece par excellence. Alisa Weilerstein, one of the best in the business these days, skittered dazzlingly over the fingerboard, with scampering double stops, but there was also soulful lyricism when called for. Van Zweden had the orchestra playing at its brilliant best. I remain unconvinced by the piece, but this was a crackerjack performance, rewarded with a roaring ovation.

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