The Dallas Symphony Orchestra Busted Out the Recorder Last Night. Yes, That Recorder.

Erik Bosgraaf. You have to be a little weird to make a career out of playing the recorder.
Erik Bosgraaf. You have to be a little weird to make a career out of playing the recorder.

Last night's Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert left me with whiplash. If this was any indication, this weekend's program is bizarrely lopsided and, despite impressive playing, feels more like a display of anomaly than a cohesive artistic experience.

The first half of the concert is light and quick, lasting only about 20 minutes and featuring guest soloist Erik Bosgraaf on the recorder. Thanks to public school elementary music classes, most of us are familiar with a cheap, plastic version of this instrument. As kids, we dutifully covered little holes with chubby fingers, screeching through uneven renditions of Hot Cross Buns and, more often than not, creating more awkward noise than inspiring sound.

The recorder is actually an ancient instrument, carved in wood long before it was mass-produced in plastic. The tones and overtones that came from Bosgraaf's tiny sopranino recorder last night were shockingly beautiful, conjuring images of ancient shepherds and snake charmers. Twittering and lilting through impossibly quick scale passages, Bosgraaf made his little pipe reverberate in the hall like the music of a flock of songbirds.

Bosgraaf performed two Vivaldi concerti accompanied by a smallish string orchestra with harpsichord. In general, this type of baroque music is better suited to smaller spaces. The intimacy of the music got a little lost in the cavernous hall of the Meyerson. After the concerti, Bosgraaf brought out a more modern recorder and gave a solo encore, showing off his peculiar skill.

The second half of the concert has absolutely nothing to do with the first. Mahler's 6th symphony lasts well over an hour and is a gratuitous display of orchestral power. It's also a dark and emotionally heavy work. This weekend the DSO is recording the piece for an upcoming CD and, last night, they dedicated the performance to Van Cliburn. The orchestra is getting ready to play Mahler's 6th on their tour of Europe over the next couple weeks. It's a piece that shows off the power of the symphony. Simply put, this is the DSO flexing its muscles.

Last night, Maestro Jaap van Zweden barreled through all four movements with such forceful energy that 80 minutes of music seemed to fly by in much less time. At times, a little more dynamic restraint or give and take in tempo might have aided the drama, but the powerful chorus of horns is stunning and, if you go see a performance this weekend, you will no doubt be blown away by the sound.

For recorder geeks, early music-nerds and Mahlerites, this concert appeals. Overall, though, the night provides more of a fascinating sonorous journey than an artistic one.

You can catch Bosgraaf and the DSO's Mahler 6 tonight, Saturday, and Sunday at the Meyerson Symphony Center. For tickets, visit the symphony's website.

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