The SSO wraps two generations of Prokofievs in Beethoven

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The SSO wraps two generations of Prokofievs in Beethoven
The SSO wraps two generations of Prokofievs in Beethoven. Foto: Carlin Ma

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra presented last Thursday the first concert of its Masterworks series at the Benaroya Hall in Seattle. The program included Beethoven’s Symphonies No.1 and 8, with two symphonic works by Sergey Prokofiev and his grandson, Gabriel Prokofiev. The young composer presented his world premier When the city rules, a piece commissioned by the SSO and the Real Orquesta de Sevilla. The commission is sponsored by Dale Chihuly and Norman Sandler in honor of their wives, Leslie Jackson Chihuly and Elisabeth Beers-Sandler.

The version pf the Symphony No. 1 offered by Ludovic Morlot was pleasant but somehow irregular. The best movements were the second and the finale, both warm and vigorous. In the andante cantabile, the SSO sounded perky and extremely attentive, playing over the contrapuntal passages. The finale was splendid. The SSO played it brightly, with the perfect tempo and gathered a remarkable ovation from the Seattle aficionados. Nevertheless, the first movement seemed slightly unbalanced and the menuetto lacked imagination and deepness. The result honored the symphony in its honest beautify and elegant simplicity.

The best part of the evening came then with Sergey Prokofiev’s suite The Love of Three Oranges, after his homonymous opera. The SSO surprised with their inspiration in this playful and energetic work. They seem to be really comfortable with this repertoire, where the SSO reveals its strongest features and develops its richest sonority. It is not only about the beauty of the sound, or the balance between orchestral families. The main feat of the SSO resides in its ability to deliver a meaningful and eloquent musical speech, arising even the most hidden details out of the score. An example of this is the second movement, where the SSO portrayed evil and madness in an incisive and unreal manner, with a hint of cynicism. Same as the March, which sounded grotesque and skeptical, revealing the true meaning of a music composed between the two World Wars. The scherzo brought a disconcerting sensation of hostility, whereas the fifth movement The Prince and the Princess made us enjoy the luxury of the SSO’s delicate and tempered sound. A delightful version. The last movement, the Flight, depicts the main characters of the opera escaping from their world of fantasy to a better place. Listening to the SSO, we kind of recognize that place dreamt by Prokofiev.

The second half of the concert had the Gabriel Prokofiev’s world premiere When the City Rules, a recently composed work which evokes the reality of our ever growing cities with their complex and uncertain reality. The first two movements are merely rhythmic. Prokofiev creates a broken speech built out of an unconnected handful of non-developed ideas, as feeble babblings. Although conceptually interesting, we missed a richer texture and more musical density. The third movement, absorbing and hypnotic, and the fourth one, more descriptive and appealing, raised a bit more the interest of the Seattleites, who responded enthusiastically. However, we found the end of the piece too histrionic. The audience liked it, though. In our view, it was a nice try to give voice to the reality that it is exploding out there, beyond the Benaroya Hall, but we fear that this postmodern and vacuous work will be likely forgotten.

Ludovic Morlot and the SSO closed the program with Beethoven’s Symphony No.8. Again, the French conductor did not achieve his better rendition. Although the orchestra played in a balanced fashion and gave us some exquisite moments, the contrasts that are the key of Beethoven’s humanity and emotion remained unveiled.

The company should be proud of being the best American orchestra in the contemporary repertoire, but they should not forget that the audience expects they master also the classic repertoire.

Carlos J Lopez