Mirroring the January ritual of all who indulge in one final dessert-binge before dieting to honor ill-fated New Year’s resolutions, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra got plenty of Romanticism out of their system this weekend before their Mozart Festival, set to last the remainder of this month. They hosted two young guest artists, conductor Pablo González and violinist Nicola Benedetti, for works by Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms. 19th-century enthusiasts will have the memories of a spirited Carnival Overture and Mr González’s epic conception of Brahms’ Symphony no. 1 to hold them over until February; Ms Benedetti’s Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, on the other hand, was utterly forgettable.

You might not expect a lot of variety among several late-Romantic works written within fifteen years of each other, but this program successfully highlighted unique aspects of all three composers: the jaunty, folk-inspired joie de vivre of Dvořák; Tchaikovsky’s lyrical elegance and naïveté; and those qualities that defined Brahms as symphonic heir to Beethoven, namely motivic manipulation and a clear trajectory in multi-movement works. Another piece by Dvořák in tandem with either Brahms or Tchaikovsky might have been too much of a good thing, what with the commonalities among the three composers. A balance was struck, however, with the Carnival Overture, which largely supplants Dvořák’s piquant harmonies and tenderness with brusque dance rhythms and extroversion. The Tchaikovsky concerto and Brahms symphony are more in line with what posterity has accorded those two names, akin to what Don Giovanni or the Eroica Symphony represent in the output of Mozart or Beethoven. Although completed nearly contemporaneously, the warm breezes and rhapsodic nature of the Tchaikovsky stand in sharp contrast with the pathos and taut structure of the Brahms.

Maestro González, currently Music Director of the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya, seemed to have the pulse of the DSO in both the Dvořák and the Brahms, realizing highly fluid readings despite, or thanks to, his frequent tempo adjustments. Their Dvořák had all the mischief of the rustic celebration this music loosely depicts. Mr González chose vibrancy over sheer brilliance at the beginning, his tempo a hair slower than on some recordings, but at a comfortable speed for the ubiquitous syncopations to elbow a listener gently in the ribs and invite him to dance along. The DSO responded to Mr González’s direction with a robust sound, always just transparent enough for inner voices to cut through the texture while generally leaning toward a more unified, broader tone. Dvořák provides some flashy orchestral writing, but in Saturday’s performance such special effects became more than the sum of their parts, subsumed into a self-effacing, and downright fun, reading.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, music as Teutonic and severe as Brahms’ Symphony no. 1 in C minor can be tricky to bring to life, tending as it often does toward squareness. Mr González more than avoided such pitfalls, thrusting his entire being at the orchestra in a powerful interpretation. His preference for slow tempi was only sometimes problematic – I found the Andante sostenuto to be too heavy on the “sostenuto” and thereby a bit fragmented – but usually mitigated by an acceleration toward points of climax. With a freedom of spirit that belied meticulous organization, this tactic worked wonders in the outer movements, and the DSO under this young maestro sounded mature and bold. The piece itself may have taken Brahms 20 years to write, but its performance on Saturday was a matter of expressive urgency.

For the first of many times I’ve heard Tchaikovksy’s Violin Concerto in D major live, I was bored from start to finish. Ms Benedetti played with a lush, generous sound, but wasted such tone production through a lack of attention to (or else a gross misjudgment of) a host of other variables. Her sound virtually never varied, and themes were given no structure or shape, each note identical – in dynamic, color, and relative importance – to the next. Although her left hand technique was phenomenal, her articulation was sloppy with respect to Tchaikovsky’s markings in the score, missing the charm found in those lilting upward slur releases so reminiscent of ballet. After a nice but cautious second-movement Canzonetta, Ms Benedetti tore through the finale at an unrealistic clip, achieving none of the rhythmic punch that had been so integral to the DSO’s Dvořák, and losing the orchestra and Mr González several times as she rushed onward.

Ms Benedetti’s biography mentions passions for performing new and underplayed works, as well as for musical outreach and education. She certainly has the chops to render thorny contemporary scores effectively, even if I found her to fall far short in a Romantic concerto staple, and I applaud any artist so proudly advocating for arts education. It should be interesting to see along which of these paths Ms Benedetti’s career takes her as she continues to develop.