The Fort Worth Symphony’s Valentine weekend program, though obviously aiming at ready box office returns, turned out to be satisfying and meaningful beyond easy surface appeal Friday night in the first of three scheduled performances under the baton of music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya at Bass Performance Hall.
The best and biggest news of the evening was the appearance by Spanish-born, New York-based guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas. Performing the most famous and beloved of guitar concertos, Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, Villegas brought an intense energy to this overworked piece, producing an assertive, motoric energy in the first movement, quick humor in the third, and, in that famous, ravishingly romantic middle movement, an almost trance-like passion. The orchestra and Harth-Bedoya collaborated sensitively, providing an appropriately delicate and insightful backdrop for this outstanding soloist.
Villegas’ technique is impressive both in terms of his accurate, sure-fire velocity and his solid, compelling, tone quality. And, beyond that—and in addition to obviously perfect interpretive instincts—he commands a genial, unpretentious, and convincing stage presence. In response to a hugely enthusiastic audience ovation, he performed the Gran Jota of late nineteenth-century Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega, a brilliant showpiece during which, at one point, the guitar mimics the snare drum—in the case of a virtuoso of the level of Villegas, quite convincingly. Return appearances by this uniquely impressive musician would indeed be welcome.
(By the way, the otherwise excellent program note by Jane Vial Jaffe referred to the Concierto de Aranjuez of Rodrigo as “his guitar concerto” in the singular, apparently overlooking Rodrigo’s Concierto para una fiesta, which premiered in Fort Worth in 1983.)
The romantic-themed concert had opened with the Overture to Die Fledermaus of Johann Strauss II, a flashy, melodic work more frequently relegated to Pops concerts but here performed with convincing attention to detail. Intentionally or not, the Overture gave a slightly subversive edge to the Valentine-themed concert, at least for a listener aware of the comical but cynical undertone of the operetta to which the overture is attached.
After the guitar concerto and intermission, Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra turned to a set of nine movements excerpted from the three Suites based on Prokofiev’s full-length ballet Romeo and Juliet—a work, interestingly, almost exactly contemporaneous with Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Besides laying out Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, these movements, though drawn from three different sets of pieces, came together for an intriguing large-scale orchestral work. Besides bringing an element of gravitas to the program, the selections continually presented the inventiveness and profundity of Prokofiev’s ideas as represented in one of the greatest ballet scores of all time, and one of the monuments of twentieth-century music. The somber introduction displayed the orchestra in full force; in this particular performance, the movement depicting the Death of Tybalt was even more strikingly powerful than usual, in its gripping transition from the energy of a street fight to a scene depicting a painful, convulsive death.