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Van Zweden, DSO Explore Some of the Byways of Mendelssohn's Music

by Olin Chism 23 Sep 2011 9:57 AM

The music of Felix Mendelssohn is not as fashionable as it used to be, but the opening night of the Dallas Symphony’s Mendelssohn festival demonstrated that there are some gems among his little-known works.


The music of Felix Mendelssohn is not fashionable any more, but Jaap van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra are supplying a local corrective over a two-week span.

The Mendelssohn festival’s opening session in the Meyerson Symphony Center on Thursday night was a kind of adventure, with two works that are little known even to fans of the composer and one of his best-known ones.

The little-known ones were his String Symphony No. 10 and his Symphony No. 1, both dating from his teen years. The string symphonies, of which there are 13, are apprentice works. No. 1 is his first full-scale symphonic composition (not his first mature one;  Mendelssohn had already reached maturity at an astonishingly early age).

Van Zweden and the DSO (significantly cut back for the string symphony) gave performances bristling with energy and suffused with lyric beauty. The playing was always cohesive, even at the white-hot tempo of the final measures of the string symphony, and there was admirable solo work. Principal clarinetist Gregory Raden deserved the special recognition he got from Van Zweden at the end of the Symphony No. 1.

The Symphony No. 10 is a one-movement work that is sprightly in character; it already has hints of Mendelssohn’s characteristic scherzo-like playfulness. The Symphony No. 1 is a substantial work that is almost Beethovenian in its force and driving quick movements (Van Zweden favored fast tempos here, too).

The one well known work of the evening was the Violin Concerto, with the Dutch musician Simone Lamsma as soloist. Her playing was accurate, her tone sweet, but her performance was a bit demure — not quite fitting Mendelssohn’s first-movement tempo/character indication, “allegro molto appassionato.”

The program will be repeated tonight, but not Saturday or Sunday. To get in more of Mendelssohn’s works, the DSO is departing from its usual pattern and doing two programs a week: Thursday and Friday, and then a new program on Saturday and Sunday. It’ll return to the regular schedule on Oct. 6.