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Beethoven Triumphant

Jones Hall
11/14/2014 -  & November 15, 16, 2014
Gabriela Lena Frank: Three Latin-American Dances
Edouard Lalo: Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67

Frank Huang (violin)
Houston Symphony, Andrés Orozco-Estrada (conductor)

Andrés Orozco-Estrada (© Werner Kmetitsch)

Andrés Orozco-Estrada's second round of concerts as the Houston Symphony's new music director kick of a three-week Beethoven festival, placing the composer's symphonies and overtures in imaginatively conceived contexts. Having the Fifth Symphony anchor the first program is smart, allowing the audience to hear Orozco-Estrada's perspective on a familiar repertoire staple. While the ensuing two weeks feature works that approach and often equal Beethoven's musical ingenuity (Mozart's Requiem and Schumann's Cello Concerto, among others), the first featured an invigorating modern suite and near-forgotten virtuoso vehicle. Despite strong performances of the trio of works, one couldn't help but notice that the Frank and Lalo lacked the organic inevitability of Beethoven's masterful essay.

The first of Gabriela Lena Frank's Three Latin-American Dances, "Jungle Jaunt," was arresting, colorful and infectious, drawing applause after its final note. Its two accompanying movements were perhaps not as convincing, and switching the first and third movements might create a more effective overall shape. Orozco-Estrada and his orchestra visibly enjoyed the wealth of colors, South American rhythms, exotic percussion effects, and bold, brassy climaxes. The playing was technicolor and brilliant, presenting the piece in the best possible light, and it was wonderful to have the composer present to receive the audience's appreciative ovation.

Frank Huang, the HSO's brilliant concertmaster, played Lalo's demanding Spanish Symphony impeccably. Many fine violinists grace the Jones Hall stage, and Huang can easily hold his own with the best of them, with solid technique, gorgeous tone and, in the fourth-movement Andante, intelligent and tastefully-phrase lyrical lines. The piece itself sags in many places, lacking the substance to sustain the bulky five-movement form, but as a virtuosic showpiece, it is certainly enjoyable to hear when performed as well as it was here.

Orozco-Estrada's view of Beethoven's Fifth was taut, propulsive and, above all, admirable for its textual fidelity. Typically-overlooked details in the score were emphasized, such as the asymmetricality of the four-note Hauptmotif's two opening iterations. The orchestra executed the middle movements most effectively. The second movement, truly con moto, saw strings in perfect sync in the opening melody, answered by appropriately forthright brass. The color shifted wonderfully for the shadowy outer sections of the Scherzo, whose trio brought refined, rhythmically secure and wittily pointed counterpoint from the strings and woodwinds. The outer movements felt a bit loser. The zippy tempo for the Finale seemed to catch some in the orchestra off guard, while in the first movement there was inconsistent rhythmic precision in presentations of those ubiquitous four notes. The horns and bassoons were solid, the strings at times rough around the edges.

Marcus Karl Maroney



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