Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra offered last Thursday at the Benaroya Hall a remarkable concert of its Masterworks series. The program included Richard Strauss’ suite Der Rosenkavalier, the French cellist Xavier Phillips performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor and Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No.5 in F major.
The beginning of the concert was blurry and inattentive. Composed in 1910, Richard Strauss’ operatic music was. Inspired in the wealthy Viennese society of the early XX century, its luxurious parties and frivolous way of life, the score asks for an elegant and perky line. We have to say that it was not served by the SSO with enough care and inspiration. Instead, the orchestra seemed out of place, surpassed by the complexity of Strauss orchestration, missing the tempo sometimes, always looking for the right mood but without a clear message. As an example, the weak performance of the metal winds or the solo of the concertmaster, more like a gypsy rhapsody than a sophisticated Viennese waltz. Thus, the rendition of the suite was esthetically disappointing and showed a concerning lack of technical consistency.
Everything seemed to change with the appearance of the French cellist, Xavier Phillips, and his Matteo Gofriller cello from 1710. He was perfectly aware of the musical maturity that is needed to perform Elgar’s concert and the responsibility of satisfying the standards set by former musicians like du Pré, Casals or Rostropovich. Instead of pursuing a stilted emotionalism, Phillips gave a memorable performance, touching in its simplicity, evoking in its sobriety. Under the direction of maestro Morlot, the SSO accompanied the French cellist with a noble and ample sound. Phillips’ delicateness and precision were answered by an optimistic SSO. The orchestra unveiled a comforting ray of hope amidst Elgar’s austerity and they were rewarded with a warm ovation. Nevertheless, it was not enough to trigger an encore by Mr. Phillips.
The second half of the program consisted of Antonin Dvořák’s Fifth, which ended up being one of the SSO’s finest renditions. The dazzling flight of the strings, the delicacy of the pizzicato notes, the praiseworthy counterpoint or the suggestive scherzo. They were all samples of a committed and flawless take on Dvořák’s music. In a way, this symphony was one of the most important milestones in Dvořák’s lifework. It marked the birth of his style identity and led the way to some of his highest masterworks. Mr. Morlot captured accurately the Dvořák’s Slavic world in a performance that will be remembered by the Seattleites for a long time.
After the concert, we could not help wondering which of the two faces of the SSO we will found next time.
Carlos J Lopez