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Review: Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra festival Day 2

Posted 11:54pm on Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014

It’s a good thing that Brahms and Dvorak are among the most popular classical composers, for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra is giving its audience a big dose of the two in its August festival. By the time it’s over on Sunday afternoon, the orchestra will have played 15 of their works — or more, if you count encores.

Saturday night’s concert in Bass Hall mixed audience favorites with some lesser-known works, though no music by Brahms and Dvorak is truly obscure.

Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra opened the evening with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture. This is an arrangement of popular student songs of the time, done for the occasion of Brahms’ receiving an honorary doctorate from Breslau University.

The fact that it’s an arrangement of tunes not original with Brahms causes some puritans to look down on it. It’s a great piece nonetheless, with plenty of thrills as well as some highly listenable music. The most astonishing thing about it is that Brahms took a group of disparate melodies and worked them into a cohesive composition whose every measure is unmistakably in his musical style. You’d never mistake any of it as by Tchaikovsky.

It’s a showy piece and it received a showy performance by conductor and orchestra, who provided more than a few thrills — not bad for a work so familiar.

Conductor and orchestra dropped the classical showbiz for the greatest of all cello concertos — Dvorak’s. This brought to the Bass Hall stage a newcomer to the city, Joshua Roman, who gave a vivid performance full of high drama and lyrical beauty. A highlight was the lovely melancholy of the slow movement.

Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra contributed handsomely to the whole. Principal horn player Mark Houghton and his section were in great form, as were the soloists in the woodwinds.

Roman played a snazzy encore. I didn’t catch the title, but I think I heard the word bluegrass somewhere. Roman managed to work in some Dvorak along with more modern sounds.

The remainder of the evening was given over to Hungarian Dances by Brahms and Slavonic Dances by Dvorak. This is music that was once highly popular, though it has slipped a little on the charts in recent decades.

It’s still very catchy music, and it was given its enthusiastic due by conductor and orchestra. An interesting point about Brahms’ Hungarian Dances Nos. 17, 20 and 21 is that they were orchestrated by his friend Dvorak. Their melodies were originally by other, Hungarian composers, so this is a rare example of pieces, each of which was created by three different men. Composition by committee, you could call it.

The FWSO festival will end Sunday afternoon with Brahms’ Tragic Overture, Dvorak’s Violin Concerto (with Augustin Hadelich as soloist) and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1.

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