Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto at Dallas Symphony Is a Crowd Pleaser

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Thursday night at the classical subscription concert of the Dallas Symphony at Meyerson Symphony Center, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto once again played the role it has fulfilled so well for 130 years. Dramatic musical gestures (e.g., that riproaring introduction), echt-romantic melodies (as in the sweet, not-quite-gooey middle movement), and brilliant technical virtuosity on the part of the soloist (Uzbeki-born Behzod Abduraimov) combined to bring members of the nearly sold-out house roaring to its feet. Though there’s not much chance to bring something new to this old favorite, there’s not that much need to. For an audience satisfied with the familiar, and an artist looking for a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto works very well indeed.

The most striking element of this particular performance was, indeed, pianist Abduraimov’s right-on management of tone, voicing and resonance, achieving an always engaging aura ranging from icy brilliance to enveloping warmth. The orchestra and guest conductor James Gaffigan provided a suitably clean, assertive backdrop for the pianist.

The concert on the whole represented a fine balance of the old-fashioned overture-concerto-intermission-symphony formula. American composer John Adams’ Tromba lontana (“Distant Trumpet”) opened the evening, with two trumpeters stationed on opposite sides of the stage floating a dialogue above a harmonically minimalist foundation from the orchestra. Without break, the orchestra segued into Aaron Copland’s Quiet City for that quintessential depiction of urban America in the dark of night, highlighted by the serene dialogue of English horn (David Mattehws) and trumpet (Ryan Anthony). The presentation of these two works together made a powerful positive statement of 20th century and contemporary American music.

After the Tchaikovsky concerto and intermission, conductor Gaffigan and the orchestra moved on to Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. Stylistically, the Tchaikovsky and the Schumann both represent mainstream 19th century romanticism equally well — but with an interesting contrast in terms of popularity. While definitely a part of the standard orchestral repertoire, the Schumann remains a bit of a novelty on orchestral programs, and is certainly not as well-known as the Tchaikovsky — or dozens of other monuments of 19th century music — to the casual admirer of classical music. On the other hand, close examination of the Schumann reveals a much sturdier, more successfully innovative score, a factor held up in the performance by conductor Gaffigan and the orchestra in this concert. Ultimately, the evening succeeded on several levels, presenting a compelling mixture of the familiar and not-so-familiar.

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto continues at Dallas Symphony Orchestra through Sunday. Tickets at mydso.com.

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