Thursday night was the first time that Dr. Paul Phillips conducted a subscription concert by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, but the striking success of his program was no surprise. His concerts with SMU’s Meadows Symphony Orchestra, of which he is music director, have been among the highlights of Dallas’ musical scene for years.
His DSO program included forceful performances of symphonies by Beethoven and Schumann surrounding an appealing new viola concerto by Margaret Brouwer. The concert had a hometown flavor. Not only are Phillips and DSO principal violist Ellen Rose, who was the concerto soloist, Dallas residents, but Brouwer used to be (now she’s based in New York and Cleveland).
Phillips and the DSO began the evening with a superb account of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4. The thrilling transition from the slow introduction to the quick first movement promised good things to come, and what followed upheld that promise.
Phillips favored lively tempos and pertinent dynamic shifts that kept the performance interesting and enhanced its dramatic character. Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, the program-closer, had much the same qualities. This was never an evening in which interest lagged.
The viola concerto, handsomely played by Rose, is a colorful work whose prominent use of harp and pitched percussion instruments (vibraphone, marimba, tubular bells, etc.) give it a distinctive atmosphere. It is melodically and harmonically appealing. I found the witty and somewhat impudent character of the final movement to be a little out of character with the rather celestial other two, but maybe that’s being a little picky. Overall, it seems worth repeated hearings.
The program will be repeated Friday and Saturday nights in the Meyerson Symphony Center.