Texas Classical Review » Blog Archive » Strings Glisten in Walker, Mozart, Fort Worth Symphony’s “Scheherazade”

Guest soloist Randall Goolsby performed Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto Friday night at Bass Hall with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Kaupo Kikkas

A near-full bass performance hall saw remarkable music perform Friday night as the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra opened a sold-out concert weekend. Under the direction of Robert Spano, and in collaboration with guest soloist Randall Goosby, the orchestra has produced dazzling performances of works spanning three centuries.

by American composer George Walker lyrics for strings, originally titled Lament in dedication to his late grandmother, was first conceived as the central movement of a string quartet. The first African-American graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Walker – who died in 2018 at the age of 96 – inspired the 1946 work of his contemporary and Curtis schoolmate Samuel Barber; namely, the sound, structure and instrumentation of the composition echo the famous Adagio for strings.

Spano led the strings with smooth, supple gestures throughout the six-minute elegy, performing a warm layering of color that enhanced the score’s lush harmonies and emotive dynamic swells. The distinct linear melodies that drive the work embody Walker’s affinity for counterpoint and were carefully poetic in alternating solo passages through the ensemble’s voices, leading into an extended diminuendo for a beautiful finish.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s ‘Turkish’ was the last of five violin concertos he composed in 1775 while at home in Salzburg between tours. It is presumed that Mozart, at the age of 21, wrote the concertos for personal use as first violin of the Archbishop of Salzburg’s orchestra.

Goosby, the star violinist, is a prodigy in his own right, having made his debut with the Jacksonville Symphony at the age of nine and at 13 becoming the youngest recipient to win the Sphinx Concerto Competition. Now 26, he was in full command of the still gallant nature of a piece requiring graceful lyricism and refined virtuosity.

Spano and a stripped-down string ensemble found a playful match in Goosby as they together unfolded the energy and ripe emotional content of the first movement. His delicate touch allowed for a rich solo entry after the orchestral exposition, which gave way to playful restatements of Allegro’s themes. The unaccompanied cadenza was athletic and imaginative, replete with twirling trills and vigorous double-stops.

The Adagio, taken here a little too quickly, saw one or two slight moments of disunity between the soloist and the ensemble, but the catchy rondo of the finale was executed intelligently. Goosby displayed agility and evenness of tone in an almost cheeky banter with the orchestra, culminating in a light, unified finish.

The second half of the program was devoted to Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff Scheherazade, a symphonic suite based on the colorful fairy tales found in The thousand and One Nights. The wraparound tale finds Sultan Schahriar, convinced of the falsity of all women, preparing to have his women executed. Sultana Scheherazade avoids her own demise by distracting the paranoid monarch with rousing stories until after a thousand and one nights he spares her.

Unfolding like a rich dreamlike panorama of literary material, Scheherazade unfolds in four movements, each offering an episodic glimpse of the disconnected vignettes. Images of daring princes, swashbuckling pirates and exotic landscapes are evoked in the orchestral language with rich thematic affectations throughout.

Here the orchestra was at its most bawdy and boisterous – almost rowdy in the lively dance of the finale, for example, where the tutti statements were called out.

The third movement, titled “The Young Prince and the Young Princess,” opened with winding violins and was accented by beautifully undulating scales in the wind section and a supple harp accompaniment. The various alternations of the second movement of the fanfare-like theme saw clever interplay of winds and brass, including the muted trumpet.

Concertmaster Michael Shih delivered a stunning rendition as Scheherazade’s stringed “voice” throughout, with equal agility and grace.

The program will be repeated at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. fysymphony.org

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