Dallas Symphony Orchestra Music Director Fabio Luisi presents an intriguing program in Dallas this weekend. A co-commission of DSO and Bravo! Vail, with Bruce Adolphe Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt! was specially designed to be programmed alongside Beethoven’s ubiquitous and immortal Symphony No. 9.
Luisi led the DSO in the work’s world premiere at the Bravo! Vail Music Festival last summer and, at its Dallas premiere on Thursday night, performed the same Beethoven-themed program to a packed house at the Meyerson Symphony Center.
Although performed with familiar brilliance and splendor, the positioning experimentations with vocal and orchestral elements yielded warm and cold results in balance and blending.
Adolphe’s piece is the latest in his recent series of compositions inspired by specific works by Beethoven, citing Beethoven’s musical language in texture, melodic structuring and instrumentation, not to mention the title. (“This kiss to the whole world” quotes the text of Friedrich Schiller in the chorale finale of the Ninth.)
Here, Adolphe’s work preambles Beethoven’s Ninth in both compositional material and thematic impetus, as Adolphe states, “…I have chosen this quotation to be both the title and the message: that all humanity is together in this world, we are connected, and we should celebrate our humanity with love and joy.
Beethoven, a pious son of the Enlightenment and near-contemporary of Schiller, saw the ravages of the French Revolution and the resulting absolutism of Napoleon’s regime spread beyond the borders of Europe. Through the vehicle of this magnum opus, he reflects on war and destruction as violations against our human nature and, having witnessed the fall of Napoleon and the restoration of order in Europe in 1814, looks optimistically to the eventual brotherhood of men.
Adolphe’s symphonic poem opened on tremolo strings, shimmering with the familiar sparkle and mystery of the opening fifths of No. 9. With the first and second violins spread out on either side of the stage and the basses positioned behind the horn section, Luisi achieved an even and colorful balance that massaged the low and menacing passages into a welcome blend. Peppery, playful percussion and bold brass proclamations highlighted the thorniest elements of Adolphe’s score, flashing amid august counterpoint reminiscent of Beethoven’s classical language. Presented without an intermission, the program allowed the 10-minute work to blend harmoniously into the tent’s offer.
For the symphony, Luisi favored sonic weight, invigorating dynamics and fast tempos, as evidenced by a slight or two in orchestral cohesion. The first movement saw a lovely dark overture which opened into thrilling fragmentations of the main theme. Likewise, drastic shifts in dynamics and the ominous ostinato of the coda have been skillfully executed.
The iconic, thunderous octave strikes that open the second movement were followed by a rushing scherzo, where the sections sometimes fell apart rhythmically. The winds, however, showed remarkably dexterous precision in the movement’s playful Trio.
The singing Adagio movement was staged in an appropriately dark and even temperament against the loud movements surrounding it. Here, strings and winds brought a supple and warm romanticism.
The finale served as a welcome return to the frenzy with variations on earlier themes and great orchestral tutti throughout. Beautiful dynamic swells in the cellos and basses ushered in the famous “Freude” theme before a militaristic outburst in the orchestra drew in the choir and soloists – soprano Angel Blue, mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven, tenor Issachah Savage and bass-baritone Soloman Howard.
Here, Luisi’s positioning choices yielded less than desirable results. Placing the four soloists on the choir terrace with the choir caused them to struggle through the orchestra below with a loss of clarity in diction.
Nonetheless, Howard and Savage showed power and vigor in their vocal delivery on their solo passages, and the quartet managed a bright, resonant ringtone during their moments together. The DSO Chorus provided a solid base, a mostly solid base, except for the overly loud tenors, which affected the overall tuning in the big highlights.
With a few placement tweaks, this program could find itself not only powerful and exhilarating, but also extremely refined.
The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. dallassymphony.org