It’s a wonder what a difference a few weeks can make.
Robert Spano, the music director designate of the Fort Worth Symphony, led the orchestra in finely paced performances of assorted works earlier this month. But Friday night at Bass Performance Hall, with guest conductor David Briskin, the orchestra sounded like a different bunch.
Briskin, who made her debut at the FWSO, has served as Music Director and Principal Conductor of The National Ballet of Canada since 2006.
The program mixed Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture with Beethoven Heroic Symphony and guitar concerto by British composer Joby Talbot in 2018, Dark Moon Ink, with Artyom Dervoed as soloist. Talbot is known locally for his opera Everest – about a tragic expedition on the eponymous mountain – which the Dallas Opera premiered in 2015.
In three continuous movements, lasting about 25 minutes, the concerto features minimalist breaths, dreamy romanticism, cinematic gestures and Balkan-inspired dances. But these influences do not coalesce into a convincing whole.
In a pre-performance video displayed on a screen, Talbot explained that he took the concerto’s title from a translation of medieval Japanese poetry. He also described how the orchestra amplifies the ideas of the guitar, like an effects pedal does for an electric guitar.
If the orchestra was the pedal, then it was often too loud, overwhelming Dervoed. He strummed vigorously and his fingers flew up and down the fingerboard, but it was hard to hear him when the orchestra played louder than the piano, even though his guitar was amplified. Based on what was audible, Dervoed had terrific technique and lyrical melodies. Reducing the number of musicians, or reducing the densely orchestrated passages, could have helped to balance.
Initially inspired by the revolutionary spirit of Napoleon, Beethoven Heroic also suggest the heroic struggles of the composer in the face of his worsening deafness. But there was little heroism or revolutionary in this reading. The music often lost its tension, with lots of trails, especially in the first movement. Loud passages often sounded coarse and were marred by intonation issues. The winds were also sometimes buried in the scales.
Still, there were eloquent solos, as when oboist Jennifer Corning Lucio somberly intoned the slow movement’s funeral march.
by Mendelssohn Hebrides fared better, with Briskin showing a stronger sense of rhythm and scale. He coaxed the long-winded lyricism of the orchestra and gathered the group to soulful heights that evoked waves crashing on a rocky shore. In their peaceful duo, clarinettists Stanislav Chernyshev and Ivan Petruzziello played with melting beauty.
Repeats at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Bass Performance Hall, Fourth and Commerce, Fort Worth. $25 to $99. 817-665-6000, fwsymphony.org.