Texas Classical Review » Blog Archive » Dennehy’s ‘Memoria’ Gives a Timely Elegiac Note to the Dallas Symphony Season Finale

Gemma New conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Friday night at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Photo: Roy Cox

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s final subscription concert program of the season, led by Principal Guest Conductor Gemma New, opened Friday at the Meyerson Symphony Center with a co-ed evening of musical creation. While the program of Ravel, Grainger, Mussorgsky and Donnacha Dennehy offered DSO musicians well-deserved opportunities in the solo spotlight, an intermittent disjunction between conductor and musicians belied the usual quality and caliber of the show. together.

After New, Dennehy’s 2021 keynote Memory opened the concert with relevant and thoughtful pathos. Created in February this year by the RTE Symphony Orchestra in Dublin, this 15-minute dirge was heard at its premiere in the United States. Of the piece, Dennehy writes: “Memory is a piece inspired by how people (or our inventions of those people) live vividly in our minds, even when they are no longer there in real life. I have never felt this more strongly than in the past two years, when more than ever we have been made aware of the fragility, the preciousness and the precariousness of life itself.

Indeed, as the country grapples with two mass shootings in as many weeks – an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and a grocery store in Buffalo, New York – Dennehy’s musical elegy, which he dedicated to his late friend and mentor Hormoz Farhat, served as a timely vehicle for solemn contemplation.

Memory opened with angst and foreboding, captured in dark pizzicato strings and floating flute interjections. The work is imbued with dark, fragmentary ideas in the lower orchestra, dispelled by light and bright melodies in the violins and winds. A stimulating call-and-response section sees sentimental strings and orotund sections of brass and drums orchestrate sections of the theme before they are revealed in earnest by the full ensemble. New and the DSO achieved a measured balance of light and dark textures in the work with remarkable clarity.

Composed in 1907 in thirty days, the work of Maurice Ravel Spanish rhapsody established him as a virtuoso of modern orchestral color and certified his flair for the musical expressions of Spain. (Ravel himself was half Basque). The use of modal rhythms, melodies and ornamental figures common in Spanish popular music of the time organically blends with Ravel’s natural compositional style to result in lively, kaleidoscopic soundscapes.

New does a good job of conveying the delicate dynamic range—with an opening movement that begins pianissimo and sustains nothing louder than a mezzo forte. The repetitive four-note descending theme was aptly expressed in phrases exchanged between several DSO soloists across the ensemble.

As DSO’s musical director, Fabio Luisi, continues to experiment with orchestral line-ups, the downsides of some of those choices were evident here. With the basses placed in a line against the back wall, the Malaguena of the second movement lacked the basis of their pinched ostinato figure, which could barely be heard under other voices. Additionally, New’s conducting style, while pleasing to the eye, lacked a clear rhythm, resulting in inaccuracy over the distinctive dance beats that characterize the piece.

Likewise, Percy Grainger’s “Pastoral”, the third and longest movement of his 1916 orchestral suite In a word– was too impressionistic and too often lacked solid cohesion. However, New’s mastery of color created a lovely mix between swirling scales and arpeggios on the piano and lyrical solo passages on the violin, cello and oboe. The percussion elements were a bit too loud.

The closing of the program was that of Modeste Moussorgski Pictures at an exhibition, orchestrated by Ravel. The work began as a piano suite composed in 1874, shortly after Mussorgsky lost his close friend, the Russian architect and painter Victor Hartmann. After visiting an exhibition of Hartmann’s work, he chose ten of the pieces as subjects for his suite to further commemorate his late friend. It was the late conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitsky, who in 1922 commissioned Ravel to arrange the piano suite for orchestra, which achieved immediate and lasting success when it was first performed. the next year.

A profusion of sentimentality characterized this presentation, leaving it without finesse. The trumpet provided the theme for the line, introduced in the overture “Promenade”. Dynamic swells everywhere, however, were distended. “The Old Castle” saw a gorgeous playing of the Russian folk-inspired theme on solo alto saxophone. In darker moments, like “Catacombs,” the execution was efficient and evocative, but more upbeat and driving sections like “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs” and the finale, “The Great Gate at kyiv,” border on raspy. Still, New’s infusion of energy and drama earned the set a loud ovation from a near-full house.

The program will repeat at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. dallassymphony.org

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