Fresh off a successful European tour, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is back in the Meyerson this weekend with a dramatic, sexually charged program of Romantic music.
Jaap van Zweden won't be back in Dallas until May, so the orchestra is performing sans their fearless leader. For good reason, the DSO has gained a reputation for playing with more artistry when Maestro van Zweden is at their helm. More often than not this season, concerts featuring guest conductors have lacked the precision and artistic phrasing the Maestro pulls out of his musicians. But if you're thinking of skipping out on this weekend's concerts because van Zweden's name is not on the bill, you're making a mistake.
It's hard to take your eyes off guest conductor Marc Albrecht. There's a stiffness to his posture, as if he needs a chiropractor or a few good yoga sessions to loosen his shoulders. Despite that, he manages to flail arms, head and body excessively, resembling one of those giant Gumby-like blow up puppets that jerk and wave from car dealer parking lots. He also brings to the podium one thing Jaap van Zweden will never have: Conductor Hair.
Conductor Hair comes in a myriad of textures, colors and lengths. The important thing is that it is capable of its own kind of momentum; it has to move with a jerk of the head. Albrecht has an arsenal of hair-flipping techniques at his disposal and he uses them without discretion, tousling his fluffy locks by twitching, jerking and flipping his head to the music. It's a bit much, and it makes you wonder if they teach this kind of thing in conservatories (Hair Flip 101: The Art of Podium Hair).
This kind of conducting can be a turn off when the music doesn't match the theatrics, but the sound Albrecht drew from the DSO last night, while perhaps less cleanly articulated or precise, had the same kind of dynamic control and musical shaping of phrases that audiences have come to expect when van Zweden is on the podium.
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The concert begins and ends with music from the opera house (Wagner's Overture and Venusburg from Tannhauser and Dance of the Seven Veils from Strauss' Salome). Both of these pieces conjure drama and lust, and Albrecht and the DSO played from the heart (and maybe also from below the belt). Because they controlled their sound when it was called for, the romantic surges and bursts of sounds were satisfyingly rich.
Guest pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet brought his own hair and flair to Liszt's second piano concerto. It was elegant at moments, overly bombastic and slightly abrasive (especially in the upper registers) at others, but nevertheless performed with all the gusto this piece requires.
In particular, the second half of this weekend's program is worth the price of your ticket. Strauss' Death and Transfiguration was written when the composer was in his twenties, but it has a moving, profound quality that reveals a deep wisdom about mortality. This is music that might make you think and will definitely make you feel. I loved Albrecht and the DSO's Dance of the Seven Veils. On the opera stage, this music accompanies one of the genre's most perversely erotic scenes, and last night all the intensity of Salome's perverse seduction was there.
The DSO will repeat this program tonight and twice on Saturday. Tickets and information available on their website.