This weekend is not a time for musical understatement at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Two massive works — one of them brand-new — share the program with one that’s more modest (in scale, not value).
The new work is Poul Ruders’ Symphony No. 4, which received its world premiere Thursday night in the Meyerson Symphony Center. Ruders, who is Denmark’s most prominent living composer, was trained as an organist, though he’s better known as an orchestral composer. In this symphony he adds his native instrument to a very large orchestra for mighty results.
The half-hour-plus work seems quite complicated; it’s not easy to grasp on a first hearing. But it’s consistently interesting and often quite appealing. There are some earthquakey moments when organ and orchestra join forces at full volume, but there’s plenty of variety and pianissimos are not neglected.
I found the work attractive melodically, harmonically and instrumentally. Some of the quiet moments were mysterious if not eerie, with some of the mystery supplied by effective combinations of instruments. All sections of the orchestra get a good workout, with the organ sometimes prominent but not dominating.
(Particularly effective on Thursday night was the beautifully timed loud cough which accentuated the quiet beginning of one movement. The DSO’s audience scores again …)
Brazilian-born guest conductor Roberto Minczuk, a protégé of Kurt Masur, led a highly dramatic performance with superb playing by the orchestra and organist Mary Preston. The composer was present and acknowledged applause.
Ruders’ work is a co-commission by the Dallas Symphony, the Odense Symphony Orchestra of Denmark and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra of England. It’s unusual (for the DSO, at least) in being substantial enough to serve as the center of gravity of a concert. Generally commissions are lighter, or at least shorter.
Also on the program were another mighty work, Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, which received an effective performance by Minczuk and the orchestra, and Mozart’s Haffner Symphony, which was given a generally brisk but graceful performance.
Performances of the program will continue through Sunday.