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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 15, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 7
SSO presents three 'warhorses' - and a world premiere
Arts & Entertainment
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SSO presents three 'warhorses' - and a world premiere

by Alice Bloch - SGN Contributing Writer

SEATTLE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
BENAROYA HALL
February 7


Last week I reviewed a Seattle Symphony Orchestra performance of Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony, composed just after World War II but new to almost everyone in the audience. By contrast, this week SSO performed three 19th-century works so familiar to classical music fans that many of us can hum them from beginning to end - Rossini's William Tell Overture, Brahms' Fourth Symphony, and Schumann's Piano Concerto - and topped off the program with the world premiere of Instances, a short piece Elliott Carter composed a few months before his death last November at the age of 103.

SSO music director Ludovic Morlot often delivers a surprise in his programming choices. This time the order of the program was the surprise.

The Rossini overture would have been the expected concert opener - it is an overture, after all. Then would come the Schumann piano concerto. Then, after intermission, the Carter world premiere. Finally, Brahms' last symphony, with its brilliant scherzo and inspiring final movement.

Au contraire, said maestro Morlot. First the Carter, then the Brahms. After intermission, the Schumann, and finally, the Rossini. Surprise - the unusual order worked well.

Morlot introduced Carter's Instances with a brief remembrance of the composer, who wrote this work at Morlot's request and dedicated it to him. The piece itself was a delight, full of humor and vitality, with bursts of melody interrupted by percussive rhythms and Bronx cheers from brass and winds. A lyrical passage for solo trumpet (played by David Gordon) gave way to xylophone and drums, then a series of piano runs (played with panache and technique to spare by Kimberly Russ). The quiet coda, in which fewer and fewer instruments were playing, might have been intended as a reminder of Haydn's 'Farewell' Symphony - Carter's way of saying goodbye.

Brahms' Symphony No. 4 in E minor (Op. 98) gathered steam as it went along. The first movement lacked the sweeping dynamism of a great Brahms performance, and my heart sank at the thought that this gorgeous work might not receive a worthy interpretation. But by the beginning of the raucous third movement, my fears were allayed. The orchestra delivered a spirited performance, with plenty of flash from the piccolo, timpani, and triangle. The final movement, practically a symphony in itself, had all the grandeur and expressiveness it deserved. Principal flutist Demarre McGill's solo was lovely and evocative, the trombones (led by David Ritt) exercised remarkable restraint in their quiet solo, and the strings and winds had a burnished Brahmsian sound throughout.

Nicholas Angelich made an impressive SSO debut in Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor (Op. 54). He showed his technical prowess in the three cadenzas (solo passages in which Morlot stood still and let Angelich run the show) of the first movement, and handled the quieter phrases with great lyricism. He tended to pound out the louder passages, though, and his idiosyncratic timing led Morlot on a merry chase. Ever the generous colleague, Morlot kept the orchestra in sync with the soloist, and the result was an extremely satisfying performance. Principal oboist Ben Hausmann gets special mention for his fine solo work.

Although Brahms was Schumann's friend, large works by both are rarely heard in the same concert. By following the Brahms with the Schumann concerto, written 40 years earlier, Morlot shed light on this musical lineage. Schumann's thematic unity across movements was one of his innovations, and Brahms expanded and deepened it to wonderful effect in his last symphony.

Rossini wrote the William Tell Overture some 20 years before Schumann's concerto (hey, the works in this program were played in reverse chronological order!) and this overture points back to Beethoven's 'Pastoral' Symphony, composed 20 years earlier still. Like the Beethoven work, Rossini's overture includes a dramatic storm featuring a piccolo (played by the excellent Zartouhi Dombourian-Eby). The melodic calm-after-the-storm passage was given superb legato phrasing by Stefan Farkas on English horn and McGill on flute, and the trumpets (led by Alexander White) did credit to the galloping finale. But the highlight was the heartbreaking opening passage, played with exceptional beauty by five cellos led by virtuoso principal cellist Efe Baltacigil.

Next season will include Dvorák's Cello Concerto, with Baltacigil as soloist. Don't miss it.

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