Concert Review: Despite Mixed Program, Guest Conductor Ed Spanjaard Ends on a High Note

Guest conductor Ed Spanjaard served up a sometimes illogical but generally intriguing menu for his appearance with the Dallas Symphony Thursday at MortonH.MeyersonSymphonyCenter. The opening item, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, appeared to have been chosen primarily as a showcase for Shannon Lee, a young Canadian-born violinist who grew up inPlano and who is currently a student atColumbiaUniversity. Orchestra member Jan Mark Sloman is Lee’s principal teacher; she has a promising career well underway, with a number of somewhat significant competition wins and orchestral performances on her résumé.

Although Lee’s performance was generally elegant and expressive, conductor Spanjaard’s assertive reading and outsized stage personality all but overwhelmed the young violin soloist. Spanjaard indulged in sometimes odd accents and broad rubato. The result was frequently surprising but ultimately engaging and satisfying. If there was a major flaw in the performance, it was that the soloist was more of a decoration than an active participant and interpreter.

The next work on the program, Britten’s Matinées musicales, added little to the program. Britten drew on bits of Rossini here to create this five-movement suite as ballet score for Balanchine in 1941. The composer shows off an above-average skill as an orchestrator but none of the dark profundity and brilliance of many of his later works. It almost seems that something else—though I’m not quite sure what—might have worked better at this point in the concert.

However, the final work of the evening, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, proved well worth the price of admission. In this masterpiece, Elgar exploited the late romantic harmonic vocabulary and the full palette of colors of the modern orchestra within a succinct, effective structure. He manages to be sincerely and deeply emotional while avoiding grandiosity and sentimentality. At the same time, he communicates a warm, lively intellect—at times whimsical, at times joyful, at times profound.

Conductor Spanjaard served this work up with the same aggressive energy he had applied in the Vivadli, though, of course, on a grander scale. Though he at times became dangerously close to being noisy, he clearly understands the wonderful momentum and marvelous complexity of this score, and, calling on the capabilities of the orchestra, produced a performance that was majestic and memorable.

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