Dallas Symphony, Stephen Hough and Andrew Litton team up in stylish Tchaikovsky

After the winter storm washed out the Dallas Symphony’s Thursday performance, and abridged its Friday concert, the orchestra was finally able to present its full scheduled program Saturday. The audience at the Meyerson Symphony Center looked notably larger than usual, with many patrons likely in attendance to welcome the return of the DSO’s former music director Andrew Litton.

Over his 12 years at the helm, Litton helped grow the DSO’s reputation with tours and recordings. Those recordings included the Rachmaninoff piano concertos with Stephen Hough, who teamed up with Litton and the DSO Saturday, this time in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Rounding out the all-Russian program was Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony.

Hough turned in a stylish Tchaikovsky, combining technical prowess with a sophisticated musical personality. In the first movement, he played noble and with direction. Declarative episodes were vigorous without being forced, and nimble passagework was dispatched with a feathery touch. Cadenzas sounded improvisatory, exploring mercurial shifts in mood.

Hough brought great emotional warmth to the slow movement, and again displayed considerable freedom in his shaping of rhapsodic lines. The finale surged forth with fiery spirit.

Pianist Stephen Hough performs Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra led by former music director Andrew Litton at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas, Feb. 5, 2022.(Allison Slomowitz/Special Contributor)

With assiduous direction from Litton, Hough and the DSO maintained close dialogue, actively listening to each other and responding in kind. But some orchestral passages in the second movement lacked energy and momentum.

This issue became more pronounced in the Rachmaninoff symphony. The piece reveals Rachmaninoff’s gift for memorable melodies and features intriguing counterpoint. But it tends to ramble over its hourlong duration, and can seem overly sentimental.

The DSO’s reading frequently lacked propulsion. The music needed a much stronger sense of where it was going and why it mattered.

Litton’s large gestures occasionally had no obvious connection to the score. And he too often beat time without giving the orchestra expressive direction. This left the players to figure out phrasing for themselves, sometimes resulting in coordination problems.

Litton stretched the tempo at the ends of many phrases, but often did so suddenly, challenging the musicians to stay with him. In several instances, his subsequent downbeats felt abrupt.

Still, there were some fine moments. Principal clarinetist Gregory Raden lovingly caressed his solos in the slow movement, showingcasing his creamy tone and impressive breath control. And the brass brought raw, dark power to rousing climaxes.

Details

Video stream will be available Feb. 15. Single concert $10; season pass $125. 214-849-4376, dallassymphony.org.

Stéphanie d'Oustrac in the Dallas Opera's production of 'Carmen' at the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas in October 2018.

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