FORT WORTH -- It was a concert that should have been sponsored by a travel agency.
The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, presented a program at Bass Hall on Friday night comprising a set of Latin American dances by a composer from California, a Scottish-flavored fantasy by a German composer and a symphony by a Finnish composer that he developed during an extended stay in Italy.
The featured work was the Scottish Fantasy by Max Bruch. The work, whose full, grown-up title is Fantasia for the Violin and Orchestra with Harp, freely using Scottish Melodies, featured violinist William Hagen, the Utah native who dazzled symphony audiences with his rendering of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto last season. He replaced the originally scheduled Stefan Jackiw, who had to bow out because of an injury.
But Hagen's performance was no last-minute rush job. The change was made weeks ago, and he had the piece ready and enjoyed as much rehearsal time with the orchestra as any soloist would have. And the performance made clear that both parties enjoyed their reunion.
The piece, composed in the late 1870s under the spell of Sir Walter Scott novels, has the feel (and something of the structure) of a violin concerto. Its opening four sections flow almost seamlessly together as they glide across an imagined Scottish landscape. In these parts, Hagen played beautifully with a honeyed, rounded tone over nicely shaped support from Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra. And true to its title, the contributions from harpist Jill Levy were especially welcomed.
But the real payoff came in the work's finale, where the colors of its tartan were most vivid and Hagen offered his flashiest work that was as Scottish as haggis but, I would assume, much tastier. On the whole, it was a performance that would have made Robbie Burns smile.
The concert opened with Three Latin American Dances by contemporary composer Gabriela Frank, who was composer-in-residence with the symphony in the 2007-08 season.
In the program notes, the composer was quoted as saying that the work's opening dance, Jungle Jaunt, owed a debt to Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Scored for a large orchestra with piano and a beefed-up percussion section, the delightfully noisy section certainly had the same exurberance and sense of fun as its inspiration.
Highland Harawi¸ meant to evoke the Andean, not the Scottish, highlands, was often haunting and sinister. The closing dance, The Mestizo Waltz, was the most overtly atmospheric of the set. Like the concert overall, the 18-minute piece was appealing for its variety and diverse joys.
The concert closed with a gorgeous performance of the Symphony No. 2 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Harth-Bedoya did a particularly nice job of revealing the many themes that weave in and out of the structure. And the winds came through especially well in the final movement, which features the famous lush theme by which the piece is known.
After a standing ovation, the symphony came back for a spirited encore: a portion of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird.
Apparently they thought there had not been enough geographical variety in the concert to that point.