FORT WORTH — Musically, we’ve got some good things going these days.
On successive evenings one could hear two very fine orchestras, led by veteran guest conductors, in excellent concert halls. On Thursday, James Conlon, an American remembered here for conducting some previous Van Cliburn International Piano Competitions, led the Dallas Symphony in music of Korngold and Shostakovich. On Friday, at Bass Performance Hall, British conductor Jane Glover took the Fort Worth Symphony from the 18th century to the 21st.
Although experienced in a wide range of operas and symphonic music, Glover is best known in baroque and classical period repertory. Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 and, with violinist Benjamin Baker, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto certainly played to her strengths, and got performances vividly characterized and lovingly detailed. Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, inspired by Haydn and Mozart, was a logical companion, and Stacy Garrop’s Spectacle of Light added some pleasant 21st century fireworks.
Baker, a New Zealand native trained and now resident in England, was a name new to me. But his was some of the finest violin playing I’ve heard in ages, with elegant expressivity allied to breathtaking technical finesse. He, Glover and the orchestra were very much on the same interpretive pages in music making alive in every measure.
Beethoven didn’t compose cadenzas for the Violin Concerto, but he did when rewriting the piece as a piano concerto rarely performed today. For a pleasant surprise, Baker used Christian Tetzlaff’s violin adaptations of Beethoven’s piano cadenzas. Timpani are very much a partner in the long first movement cadenza, taking off from their concerto-opening strokes.
Hearing Glover’s spirited and elegantly nuanced Mozart 40th, it was clear she has this music in her blood and sinews. And the orchestra gave her every detail she’d obviously prepared and expressively conducted.
By the time Mozart composed this late symphony, the minuet had evolved well away from its courtly origins, and Glover properly took this one in a well sprung one beat per measure rather than three.
The Prokofiev, with its frequent and very exposed high violin writing, is a challenge for the best orchestras. Although most of the playing Friday was finely polished, the Fort Worth violins weren’t always unanimous on some of those top pitches. (Maybe this wasn’t the best idea for a concert opener.) Aside from that, and fortissimos that would have been better a little less forced, the performance exuded charm and wit.
Composed for Chicago’s early music ensemble Music of the Baroque, Garrop’s Spectacle of Light was inspired by 18th century (and later) illustrations of fireworks. Unabashedly populist and tonal, it’s a fun six minutes of sizzles, booms and splashes of sound, fading like leftover smoke.
Garrop’s personable video introduction to the piece was projected on a large screen over the stage — and at the end of the performance she strode onstage to share in the applause. Less helpfully, the FWSO continues to supply printed program notes in type readable only with a magnifying glass. Really?
Repeats at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (no Sunday performance) at Bass Performance Hall, Fourth and Commerce, Fort Worth. $26 to $99. 817-665-6000, fwsymphony.org.
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