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Houston Symphony Orchestra- 10/23/22

Houston Symphony Orchestra– Jones Hall, 09/23/22.

This evening featured the third subscription concert with the Houston Symphony’s new music director Juraj Valčuha. Featured soloist was violinist Itzhak Perlman performing the Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Rhapsodic Dance “The Bamboula” and Richard Strauss’ Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier” completed the program.

Itzhak Perlman is one of a very few classical music icons whose reputation and esteem transcends any single performance. Tonight’s performance reflected the love of music and depth of musical understanding that have served as hallmarks for Perlman’s career of nearly six decades. As such, any superficial flaws in execution were basically irrelevant. The five-minute standing ovation he received was as much for the performance as for the man. Valčuha led the orchestra in a well-balanced and attentive accompaniment. The long orchestral opening featured cohesive orchestral playing and beautiful oboe solos by Anne Leek.

Following intermission, Valčuha led a spirited performance of “The Bamboula,” Rhapsodic Dance by Coleridge-Taylor. The work featured dance rhythms as well as an engaging clarinet solo expertly played by Mark Nuccio. Overall, the piece sounded like music for a musical or a black and white movie. While enjoyable, if somewhat superficial, it is not among the composer’s greatest works. It cannot be counted as an overlooked great work worthy of rediscovery.

Next, Valčuha led the Houston Symphony in a memorable performance of Strauss’ Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier.” I cannot recall the orchestra ever sounding better. It was one of those rare performances where you believe you are hearing unmatched artistic and emotional playing– where any comparison with another ensemble or performance is meaningless. Valčuha knows this work intimately, and infused it with its operatic origins. This included rhythmic flexibility while maintaining precise ensemble, and free but controlled expression. His approach to dynamics is three-dimensional, being not simply loud and soft but balanced and textured. The combination of romance, sensitivity and majesty was quite moving to hear and feel.

While a brilliant orchestrator, any orchestral work by Richard Strauss features the French horn. (His father was a principal horn player.) In the opera, most of the romantic action happens before the curtain rises. The horn section begins with a heroic announcement of amorous intentions, shortly followed by orchestrated ejaculations. When the curtain rises we find a couple in bed, après amour. Principal horn William VerMeulen led the stellar horn section and contributed several outstanding solos throughout the piece. Oboist Jonathan Fischer played quietly intimate solos supported by Valčuha’s soft dynamics. Mark Hughes contributed seamlessly legato trumpet solos as well as leading the brass section in powerful tuttis. Each of the solo winds contributed musical and sonically beautiful solos. Concertmaster Yoonshin Song played her gutsy, teasing, and sensitive violin solos with security and panache. A quartet of solo strings enhanced tender moments. The entire orchestra played brilliantly.

In a remarkably short time, Valčuha has made this his orchestra, and the musicians have embraced his leadership. His appointment as music director is an unparalleled success.


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