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April 7, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 14
 
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Great soloists at Seattle Symphony
Great soloists at Seattle Symphony
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

With two Strauss concerti as its centerpiece, this concert began with Beethoven's "'Leonore' Overture No. 3." Well played, with more careful balances and phrasing than one usually hears from conductor Gerard Schwarz's Beethoven, it nonetheless lacked any emotional connection to the high drama of the opera ('Fidelio') it was written for. It was pretty and well rehearsed but not memorable.

John Cerminaro, the Symphony's first chair French horn, showed us in Richard Strauss' 'Horn Concerto No. 1' that he has lost none of his famous command of this supremely difficult instrument. His tone was extremely mellow throughout his flawless performance. So mellow, in fact, that this listener was left wanting a little more "bite," a little less perfection and a little more excitement.

The piece itself is very early Strauss and amazingly four-square. There was little of the orchestral virtuosity for which the composer later became renowned. Most of the pleasure came from the superb writing for solo horn. (Strauss' father, for whom the piece was written, was a famous horn virtuoso.) Schwarz was an excellent partner, and the orchestra played very well indeed.

At the other end of Strauss' career came his 'Concerto in D major for Oboe and Small Orchestra.' What a difference a lifetime makes! Here all the sophistication of his late operas filled the reduced orchestra with delicious felicities and sensuous textures. Floating on these came the beautiful pinpoint sound of Nathan Hughes' oboe. Strauss had a life-long love affair with the soprano voice, and he lavished the same kind of love on this work for oboe. Hughes, a stunningly handsome young man, maintained absolute mastery of his instrument while at the same time seeming to melt into the emotion of the music. He caressed each phrase the way tenor Juan Diego Florez caresses a bell canto line&with unabashed love. It was the kind of performance, especially in the lovely second movement, that makes one want to shout its glories from the rooftops! And shout indeed did the audience when the last note sounded.

The evening ended with the wonderful 'Mathis der Maler: Symphony' by Paul Hindemith, composed 1933-34. What a fine work! The themes were arresting; the orchestration a constant delight; and the performance was first-rate. Every section of the orchestra got a chance to shine, and shine they did. This was some of Schwarz' better work, with balances beautifully handled and dynamics to die for. My only reservation was that some places were rather metronomic, whereas I would prefer a little more time for punctuation of the musical sentences. But, overall, a very satisfying ending to a wonderful evening.



Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rod@sgn.org.

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