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Originally published September 21, 2012 at 7:48 AM | Page modified September 21, 2012 at 9:57 AM

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At Seattle Symphony, an exuberant jaunt to Rome and a Debussy salute

A review of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra concert, held Sept. 20, 2012, with Ludovic Morlot conducting an exuberant performance of Respighi's "Pines of Rome."

Special to The Seattle Times

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

Seattle Symphony Orchestra

Works by Berlioz, Martinu and Debussy, and Respighi's "Pines of Rome," Ludovic Morlot, conductor, noon Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $19-$112 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).

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Let other critics call "The Pines of Rome" vulgar (and many have). For sheer exuberance and spectacular sonic display, you'd have to go far to beat Respighi's deliciously colorful tone poems. Where else will you hear the recorded chirpings of a nightingale, or the ear-crushing brass crescendos amplified by the mighty pipes of Benaroya Hall's Watjen concert organ?

The Respighi made a festive capstone to the season's first subscription program of the Seattle Symphony, with Ludovic Morlot spurring on all the players as if to say, "We're back! Hear us roar." And it was a performance that also was intriguing to watch, with the percussion section constantly on the hop, and keyboardist Joseph Adam sprinting back and forth between the celeste on the stage and the pipe-organ console upstairs. There were some remarkably fine solos, too, from several principals — including clarinetist Christopher Sereque, trumpeter David Gordon, and Stefan Farkas, whose English horn was one of the major adornments of the entire program.

Morlot conducted with exuberance and obvious enjoyment, managing even in this score to create some subtlety in the shaping of the dynamics, and reining in the players for some passages of hushed, tranquil beauty.

The evening was launched with another nod to Rome, Berlioz's familiar "Roman Carnival" Overture, followed by an abrupt transition into another sonic universe: Bohuslav Martinù's Symphony No. 6 ("Fantaisies symphoniques"), with its complex, swirling sonorities that sounded like a swarm of hummingbirds. Despite some ensemble problems, Morlot and the orchestra gave a compelling performance of this 1953 work.

In honor of Debussy's 150th birth anniversary, Morlot programmed the wonderfully picturesque Nocturnes, a set of two pieces whose titles give an accurate summary of the atmospheric music: "Nuages" ("Clouds") and "Fêtes" ("Festivals"). Morlot led a sensitively nuanced account of these colorful pieces, concluding with a final procession (in "Fêtes") that prefigured the grand finale of the Respighi.

It was an impressive program, but there's some serious work still to do. Ensemble difficulties and intonation problems (particularly in the brass choirs) in several of the pieces are among the issues that will doubtless get attention in the coming months. But the orchestra and its music director are off to an exciting start.

Speaking of exciting starts: in the cello section for this program is an interesting new substitute player, 17-year-old Karissa Zadinsky — daughter of SSO first violinist Arthur Zadinsky and violinist and teacher Debra Zadinsky, and sister of new Cleveland Orchestra bassist Derek Zadinsky. No shortage of talent in that family!

Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at mbargreen@aol.com.

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