Tchaikovsky 6 Pathétique
February 15-18 | 2018
Gustavo Gimeno CONDUCTS
Jörgen van Rijen TROMBONE
Symphony No. 1, "Classical"
Trombone Concerto (US Premiere)
Symphony No. 6, "Pathétique"
One of Tchaikovsky’s most audacious works, the “Pathétique” Symphony confronts the artist’s struggle head-on with a depth of feeling matched only by its exquisite lyricism.
“In sound, dynamic, color, musical understanding and expressiveness, van Rijen is unequalled.” Luister (Netherlands)
- With the DSO, Gustavo Gimeno Was Impressive in a Dramatic New Work
by Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News
At a break in the Thursday morning Dallas Symphony Orchestra rehearsal, one of the musicians opined that this week's guest conductor, Gustavo Gimeno, should be the orchestra's next music director. I was less enthusiastic at the Thursday night concert, at the Meyerson Symphony Center, although there were certainly admirable features.
A former percussionist in Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducting only since 2012, the (presumably) 30-something Spaniard is music director of the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra. He certainly had a daunting program here: the U.S. premiere of a challenging Trombone Concerto by the Scottish composer James MacMillan and two symphonies that, while standard rep, don't exactly play themselves, the Prokofiev Classical and the Tchaikovsky Pathétique.
Co-commissioned by the DSO and five other orchestras, the MacMillan was composed for Dutch trombonist Jörgen van Rijen, the soloist here and at its Amsterdam premiere last April. Twenty-nine minutes long, in multiple contrasting sections played without pause, it definitely exploits the trombone's wide-ranging possibilities and a vast array of orchestral textures.
In two hearings, the first with a score, its structure eluded me, but one certainly hears how much is derived from a seven-note expanding motif heard at the beginning. The solo trombone's tone sometimes modified with mutes, it alternately mourns, howls, snarls, sings sweetly, dances and drives the orchestra into frenzies. MacMillan also selectively uses the instrument's signature ability to slide between pitches.
Strings sometimes indulge up-and-down glissandos, too, elsewhere supplying padded backgrounds. Brasses sometimes sound militant fanfares. Elsewhere, abetted by thunderous percussion, they threaten with batteries of chatter. A siren shrieks its own glissandos of alarm. Important solos were supplied by piccolo (Deborah Baron), two violas (Ann Marie Brink and Mitta Angel) and horn (a welcome return for David Cooper, on a break from the Berlin Philharmonic).
At one point the solo trombonist is directed to turn around and challenge the orchestra's trombonists with razzle-dazzle gestures only loosely notated in the score. In the end, brasses turn the motto theme into a triumphant chorale, strings bestowing a final quiet blessing.
There can't be many trombonists who could match van Rijen's dazzling virtuosity, or his silken tone elsewhere. Gimeno coordinated a tricky work with clear, authoritative gestures.
The Prokofiev felt a bit heavy-footed, fortissimos more forced than necessary, the third-movement Gavotte more plodding than dancelike. Both here and in the Tchaikovsky ensemble wasn't always tight, and violins' upper notes weren't always precise.
At least for my money, the Tchaikovsky seemed a set of events that never quite merged into organic wholes. The composer's metronome markings for the quick music are quite fast, and Gimeno must have been pretty close to them. For this orchestra, in this hall, on this particular evening, they often felt more frantic than exciting. The cellos' second-movement entrance was closer to a fortissimo than the marked mezzo-forte. At least for one listener, the finale's tragedy remained at arm's length.