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Irish pianist plays up a storm with Fort Worth Symphony

Posted 8:01am on Sunday, May. 08, 2011

FORT WORTH -- Irish pianist Barry Douglas' appearance with the Fort Worth Symphony has been eagerly anticipated. In 1986, he became the first non-Russian since Van Cliburn to win the gold medal at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition and also won bronze at the 1985 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Just to underline that connection, he performed Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 at Bass Hall in Fort Worth on Saturday evening, and he certainly didn't disappoint.

From the stentorian opening chords to the thrilling conclusion, Douglas played up a storm. While he edged dangerously close to overplaying here and there, he never crossed that crucial line. A lovely solo by principal flutist Jan Crisanti led to an agreeably nuanced second movement. The interpolated scherzo scampered nicely, and Douglas brought it in for a soft landing as the original pastoral mood returned. The last movement took off in a gallop but Douglas allowed the second theme some room to catch its breath.

The tone poem Titanic by FWSO composer-in-residence Peter Boyer, whose Ellis Island impressed in March, is a much earlier work by a much younger composer. Even though this piece predates the blockbuster movie by two years, it has much in common with it. The moaning and creaking of the ship underlies the parlor orchestra's waltz with a sense of an icy impending doom. Alexander's Ragtime Band and Nearer My God to Thee make a ghostly appearance as the ship sinks.

The concert ended with an astounding performance of Igor Stravinsky's mammoth, and still shocking, 1913 ballet score, The Rite of Spring. Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra turned in what was, arguably, the best performance that this writer has ever heard them deliver.

Harth-Bedoya's conducting was just terrific. His motions were perfectly clear, economical and communicative without sacrificing the electricity and excitement he can create on the podium. He was completely in control of the orchestra and himself as he carefully and inexorably built the work to a shattering conclusion.

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