Fabio Luisi leads the Dallas Symphony in a spellbinding performance of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony
Fabio Luisi has made a name for himself as the music director of the Dallas Symphony. His performances have explored both ends of the dynamic range while highlighting elegance, courtesy and transparency.
These functions were shown in detail in the fascinating rendering of the DSO over Mahler’s 55-minute fourth symphony on Thursday evening at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Since the orchestra cannot bring as many musicians on stage as usual during the pandemic, the DSO played the symphony in a chamber orchestra arrangement by the German pianist and conductor Klaus Simon.
Simon created his reduction in the spirit of Arnold Schönberg’s Society for Private Music Performances, a club that Schönberg founded in 1918 to familiarize listeners with modern music. In addition to solo and chamber music works, the concerts presented orchestral pieces that were scaled down for chamber ensembles.
Among Mahler’s symphonies, the fourth is best suited for a reduction because it is relatively slim – without trombones and tuba – and has clear textures. Although the symphony is mostly sunny in temperament, it nonetheless offers sections of intense passion and radiant climaxes.
The reduced version allowed Luisi to highlight subtleties that were not so noticeable in the original. Counterpoint lines emerged from inner voices like sparkling gemstones.
Fabio Luisi conducts the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerson Symphony Center on February 25th.
(Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor)
Luisi conducted without a baton, made daring changes in tempo and wonderfully missed the time between a few phrases. However, this challenged the musicians even more than usual to stick together, and they have not always been successful. Subsequent performances will almost certainly intensify.
With one per part plus bass clarinet and cor anglais, the winds in balance were sometimes too loud. It was strange to hear the clarinet performing the trumpet’s funeral march in the first movement, a reference to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. And I missed hearing the harp ring the last notes of the last movement.
Luisi showed a deep knowledge of the architecture of the work. Instead of going from one phrase to the next, he emphasized larger connections between passages. The trust and understanding between Luisi and the orchestra also seem to be growing as the musicians delivered some of their most engaging pieces of the season.
The violins were in particularly good shape and mastered their parts with a focused, robust sound – but also with delicacy when required. And at the beginning of the third movement the cellos and violas slowly turned the sweetest melodies over dignified plucking noises in the double basses.
The main oboe, Erin Hannigan, was an eloquent soloist, while the exposed moments of the horn were generally less polished. Concertmaster Alexander Kerr was supposed to evoke a violinist of death in the second movement and played with spirit, but occasionally emphasized his lines excessively.
In the last movement, the American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen gave Mahler’s setting of a German folk poem that describes the vision of a child from heaven a rich voice. But her part could have used more youthful innocence, and what she said was confused at times.
Repeat performances are sold out, but a video of the concert will be available on March 9th on dallassymphony.org. Single concerts, $ 10; Season Video Passes, $ 125. 214-849-4376.