An intense Russian evening with the Seattle Symphony and Lucas Debargue

Lucas Debargue
Lucas Debargue

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra SSO and the guest conductor Mikhail Agrest offered last Thursday a concert of their Masterwork Series at the Benaroya Hall in Seattle. The event was also the debut of the talented pianist Lucas Debargue. The program was entirely dedicated to the Russian music as it featured works by three of its most influential composers Piotr I. TchaikovskySergey Rachmaninov and Dmitri Shostakovich.

The concert began with a theatrical rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa Overture, from the homonymous opera after Pushkin’s poem Poltava.  Saint Petersburg-born maestro Mikhail Agrest joined the Mariinsky Theatre in 2001. Only two years later, we would make his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was just the beginning of a stunning career that has brought him from the Royal Opera House to the Opera Australia. All this extensive experience was present last Thursday in Seattle. The SSO played the overture in an operatic way, full of dramatic intensity. Besides, the performance of the metal winds stood out for the richness of their low notes. 

Sergey Rachmaninov conceived his Piano Concerto No. 4 in 1926, but the score was revised by the composer in 1941. Quite different from his other piano concerts, it is a challenge for both the soloist and the orchestra for its complexity. The first movement was hectic, played lavishly by Lucas Debargue (26). There was boldness in his piano, always tuned with Mr. Agrest’s orchestra. The second movement seemed cautious and rational, somehow out of the evening’s overall vibe. Mr. Debargue remained elegant and intense but without any trace of melancholy or hesitation. In the vivid and fierce third movement, Mr. Agrest avoided every affectation and focused on Rachmaninov’s bright inspiration, portraying every melody in its essential beauty. This jazz-like version of the piece allowed the French soloist to amaze with his tranquil sophistication. Despite his youth, Mr. Debargue was flawless in every facet, technically astonishing and confident in the repertoire. His suggestive and symbolic solo was full of mystery and sensuality. Mr. Debargue’s style is an amazing mix of rigor and insouciance which resembles the discreet elegance of the European tradition. 

Despite its vitality and creativity, maestro’s Agrest version of the Concerto missed a higher dose of coherence. Nevertheless, the final result was simply electrifying.

The second part of the concert was Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No.11. The work, composed to honor the heroes of the Russian revolution (those protesters who died under the tsarist forces in 1905). The symphony is reiterative and oversized, though a good sample of the Russian aesthetics during the mid-twentieth century. Shostakovich developed like anyone the music of ideas (or ideologies), promoting the Russian cause with some of his best compositions. We really enjoyed the warm obscurity of the cellos in the elegiac third movement.  At some point of that movement, the orchestra developed a simple but beautiful melody which seemed to illustrate the holy sense of sacrifice. The fourth movement was a visual spectacle. Maestro Agrest directed the SSO always with the right tempo, holding the pace of the long-lasting symphony. 

The SSO demonstrated their command of the Russian repertoire and showed that the company, surrounded by the best soloists, is growing in versatility. 

Carlos J Lopez