BY MARK STRYKER DETROIT FREE PRESS MUSIC CRITIC
It takes tango and performance No. 2 to bring DSO back to form
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Thursday, Orchestra Hall
Program repeats at 8 p.m. tonight
Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward, Detroit.
313-576-5111. www.dso.org. $20
After the amped-up emotions and media attention surrounding last week’s first post-strike concerts, Thursday’s performance by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra began to feel like a return to normalcy.
The TV crews were gone, though two BBC radio journalists were on hand working on a documentary, and the number of substitutes in the orchestra was down from last week as musicians returned from commitments made before the settlement. The audience numbered about 1,000, a half-full house but a respectable showing given that ticket sales started from scratch five days ago. Still, it was also a sign of how much work needs to be done to rebuild the subscription base.
Most of all, the orchestra, led by music director Leonard Slatkin, sounded more like itself — more relaxed and focused than last week, digging into an eclectic program with contagious passion but also nuanced expression. The first half had a pronounced Latin tinge, with a lively reading of Chabrier’s “Espana” setting the table for the premiere of Stephen Rush’s “Tango Symphony.”
Rush does not have the elevated reputation of his University of Michigan colleagues Michael Daugherty and Bright Sheng, but he is a consistently rewarding composer and the 15-minute “Tango Symphony” offers a charismatic take on the Argentine dance form. This is a night-music score — moody, portentous, stalking, seductive — with the insinuating dotted tango rhythms and repeating bass lines deployed as a ground in the low strings, piano or percussion.
Exquisitely orchestrated, the music creates a humid atmosphere through deft marriages of strings and winds, contrasting registers, call-and-response ideas and quick, rhapsodic flights of solo mallet percussion, violin, cello, etc. Acidic harmonies and stuttering brass add a menacing bite. Slatkin led a dynamic performance and the orchestra played as if enthralled by the piece.