Seattle Symphony Orchestra: the unstoppable power of Romanticism

Sergey Khachatryan
Sergey Khachatryan

A new Seattle Symphony Orchestra concert took place at the Benaroya Hall last Thursday, featuring a Romantic program which included works by Berlioz, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky. The evening ended up being one of the most solid performances of the SSO Musical Director Maestro Ludovic Morlot.

Hector Berlioz’ Overture to his never finished opera Les francs-juges (The judges of the Secret Court) has the vitality of the composer, who as 23 at the moment of the composition in 1826. The SSO started the concert in a powerful and up-beat manner. Perhaps the performance of the tubas and trombones was a bit over-the-top, probably too loud. That was the only flaw of the group, which was led sensitively by Mr. Morlot. We did enjoy some beautiful phrases on the violins, underlined by the cellos with rhythmic piccicato notes. The overture was a pertinent beginning so it announced the mood of the rest of the concert.

Yerevan-born young violinist Sergey Khachatryan (31) was invited by Mr. Morlot to perform Sibelius’ Violin Concert. The soloist, who won the VIII International Jean Sibelius Competition (2000) and the renowned Belgian contest Queen Elisabeth Competition (2005), provided an unforgettable rendition of this challenging score. Sibelius’ Violin Concerto requires a mature and communicative soloist, able to tackle not only the technical hurdles and dynamic variations, but also capture all the dramatic intensity of the Finish composer. Mr. Khachatryan matched finely the stamina and passion of the first movement, allegro moderato. In the second movement, adagio molto, our violinist amazed with a radical simplicity and a style based on the purity and bare beauty of the melodies. He achieved a round and complex sound that brought a vast range of sonorities, from the wooden darkness of the low notes to the brightness in the highest register. The SSO performed the concerto with depth and intelligence, allowing Mr. Khachatryan to shine. We have to highlight here the outstanding performance of the metal winds, especially the horns, always tuned and attentive. An inspired Ludovic Morlot gave a breathtaking end to this second movement, which was responded by the audience a long and respectful silence.

This mix of stirring emotions continued after the break with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. This symphony is another genuinely romantic masterpiece and it displays several examples of Tchaikovsky’s well-known melodic inspiration. But there’s not only beauty in the piece. In this music we can find, for instance, the despair against a fate that cannot be changed, or the seeking for the meaning of love amidst incomprehension. Al of that in a Beethoven-evoking style, neatly played by the SSO musicians under the baton of an almost unrecognizable Maestro Morlot. The first movement sounded stormy and nocturnal while in the second one, with a captivating tempo, the orchestra evolved to a more outgoing and passionate mood. In the valse, we felt in love with the oboes and the clarinets. It was difficult to believe, listening to the last notes of the finale, that the concert was coming to an end.

The unity of the style, the inspiration of the French conductor Ludovic Morlot and the magnificent appearance of Sergey Khachatryan made the evening one of the most valuable feats of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra this season.

Carlos J Lopez