With a program featuring a work from a Pulitzer-Prize winning, living composer, a soaring romantic work from Rachmaninoff, and a concerto performance from Fort Worth’s own principle hornist Mark Houghton, expectations this weekend were extremely high.
1985 work The Chairman Dances (foxtrot for orchestra) by John Adams was a daunting work to start a program with for the young Bulgarian guest conductor Rossen Milanov. The challenge with Adams is how to be rhythmically accurate while not being overly metronomic. Milanov was an apt guide for the orchestra, though not completely nailing down the dance feel that is so integral to the work.
But if the delivery in the Adams work was somewhat disappointing, one can say it was simply the orchestra looking ahead to what was to come. The performance of Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat, Op. 11 on Sunday afternoon was easily the best of the FWSO season. We’ll get to the inspiring playing of Houghton in a bit, but first it would be a shame not to credit his accompaniment. As an owner of recordings of the concerto performed with some of the top symphonies of the world, Sunday’s performance could stack up with any of them.
One has to wonder if Sunday’s performance was a product of them playing for one of their own, and if so, then Fort Worth audiences should get even more excited for the February performance of principal clarinetist Ana Victoria Luperi. The orchestra performed with a sincere pride in an absolutely rousing run through of a work that isn’t easy for either orchestra or soloist.
From the famous opening call, to the lyrical second movement, through the fast-flying final movement, FWSO principal hornist Mark Houghton gave a reference performance for the Fort Worth audience. Strauss’ concerto pushes performers to the extremes in many ways, and Houghton navigated the waters beautifully. Houghton made the octave slurs sound effortless, and his high B-flats came through clean, clear, and confident.
But this is not simply a show piece, the second movement not only challenges the player in terms of breath control, it also demands the performer show off their lyricism, and Houghton was up to task with long lines that seemed to soar over the orchestra. But if you think the long lines might have worn on him, Houghton put all those fears to rest in the opening notes of the recap, and led to a rousing run through the incredibly fast Allegro final movement. It was all the crowd could do to hold in their calls of “Bravo,” before the final call.