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Bright Beginnings

Jones Hall
09/08/2012 -  
Bedrich Smetana: The Moldau – The Bartered Bride: Dance of the Comedians
Claude Debussy: Première rhapsodie
Franz Doppler: Concerto for Two Flutes and Orchestra: Finale
Alan Hovhaness: Prayer of St. Gregory
Moritz Moszkowski: Suite for Two Violins: Finale
Maurice Ravel: Boléro

Aralee Dorough (flute), Judy Dines (flute), Thomas LeGrand (clarinet), Mark Hughes (trumpet), Alexandra Adkins (violin), Sophia Silivos (violin)
Houston Symphony, Hans Graf (conductor)

H. Graf (© Christian Steiner)

The Houston Symphony's 2012-13 season opened with festive virtuosity. Showcasing the superb individual and collective talents of his orchestra, Hans Graf crafted a program that not only offered a pleasant divertissement but also a good deal of substance. The sheer variety of colors on the program was a delight from start to finish.

Smetana's aqueous tone poem and Ravel's stately masterpiece formed the pillars of the concert. Both were thrillingly played and foreshadowed and summed up the talents of the orchestra. If the opening rivulets of The Moldau took a few minutes to come into focus, it only served to emphasize the picturesque nature of the piece. Brass were bold and rhythmically precise in their fanfares, and Graf whipped up frothy rapids after the famous melody's return. The return of the Vysehrad theme could have been a bit more resplendent, but this was an engaging performance of a much-loved warhorse.

Many in the audience probably don't appreciate just how difficult Ravel's Bolero is technically. The various wind solos are certainly not full of panache, but require delicacy and sinuous phrasing while maintaining utmost rhythmic accuracy, often in each instrument's highest registers. The piece posed no problems for the HSO's excellent principals. The inevitable thrust of the piece was wonderfully realized by Graf, and the tumultuous closing was appropriately hair-raising, and the performance was enticingly enhanced by video projections that followed the melodies as they wound their ways through the orchestra.

Between the two big pieces came a series of concertante works featuring soloists from the orchestra. Short virtuosic duo dashes from Doppler and Moszkowski brought out perfect tandems from flute and violin. A nod to Debussy's 150th birthday came in the form of his uneven but nevertheless enjoyable First Rhapsody, lithely sculpted by both orchestra and soloist. Hovhaness' trumpet and string meditation served as a peaceful interlude, again deftly executed. If the audience were somehow still unconvinced that this is an ensemble filled out with crackerjack musicians, the entire first violin section stood and offered Paganini's Moto Perpetuo as an encore, with the semiquaver-saturated score projected to the audience's delight.

Marcus Karl Maroney



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