With Help from Guitarist Manuel Barrueco, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Current Show Will Sweep You Away

If Valentine's day is about indulgence, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is doing its part this weekend, offering up a concert chock full of saccharin-sweet schmaltz. There might be a little too much icing on this cake, but sometimes you just gotta run your finger across the plate and lick it up.

Each of the three pieces on this week's program is a crowd pleaser. Even the length of the selections -- the longest topping out at 32 minutes, relatively short by classical concert standards -- was clearly and unashamedly selected to coddle the novice concert attendee stumbling into the Meyerson Symphony Center on or after February 14, suit-pressed and date in hand.

Bringing in a classical guitarist to serenade the audience with Spanish music was also a blatant Valentine's Day stunt, but guest soloist Manuel Barrueco's performance of Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez was anything but gimmicky.

There were moments during the Concierto de Aranjuez that, even with subtle amplification of the guitar, the balance between orchestra and soloist was off and Barrueco's instrument overwhelmed and lost. However, the composer averted most balance issues with careful orchestration and plenty of showy, unaccompanied guitar solo passages. The best moments were pairings of the guitar with woodwind instruments.

Barrueco's solo passages were stunningly beautiful displays of technical wizardry and artistic refinement. If you have ever picked up a guitar, admired a guitar solo, attempted a guitar solo, or dreamed of wowing an audience, Barrueco's classical version of totally shredding it is worth the price of admission.

The first piece on the program, Debussy's Iberia from Images pour orchestre, while written a century ago, sounded startlingly fresh last night. It says something about the DSO's programming that the first half of this concert feels innovative. Over the last several weeks, symphony-goers have heard some exceptionally beautiful music, but were restricted to selections from the 18th and 19th centuries. It was refreshing to hear the room filled with unexpected bursts of pops and claps from the percussion section, even if interesting textural moments were cushioned by safely sweeping romantic melodies.

Guest conductor Julien Kuerti adapted well to playing in the Meyerson, using the hall's acoustics smartly as he played with the orchestra's dynamics. Some guest conductors don't realize the full range of sounds available in this hall, but Kuerti's dramatic efforts, while not flawless, were effective. During Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (yet another cheesy V-day choice) loud sections were a little overdone, but the Canadian conductor's interpretation of Debussy was rich with color.

This concert is blatant romantic fodder. That being said, if you're not a cynical bastard, it's pretty easy to swallow. Repeat performances are set for Friday and Saturday nights at 8 and Sunday at 2:30.

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