By: R.M. Campbell
The Seattle Symphony Orchestra entered into its holiday season Thursday night at Benaroya Hall with a varied, easy–to-like concert, only some of which had any bearing to Christmas. No one seemed to complain.
That is not surprising because the guest conductor for this program, to be repeated through Sunday afternoon, was Christoper Seaman, who conducted with flair and ebullience for everything on the podium. If this music were supposed to bring simple pleasure to the audience, Seaman was determined to carry out his assignment. The seasonal offerings were mostly of Tchaikovsky, one which has become a part of the Christmas weeks nearly everywhere in America and the other which has nothing to do with Christmas.
To say “The Nutcracker” is ubiquitous in the US is an understatement. With Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, Tchaikovsky’s music, filled with all sorts of gorgeous tunes, can be heard daily, often twice daily, at McCaw Hall right up to New Year’s Eve. The symphony played only miscellaneous excerpts that gave a hint of the whole but not much more. It was not especially satisfying, although the orchestra played very well under Seaman’s direction. The music-making was bright and sunny and rhythmically acute. “Swan Lake” is another ballet score that preceded “Nutcracker” by some 15 years. It is more sensuous in a sustained romantic spirit. Again, the music was a miscellany of excerpts that did not make particular sense and did not flow evenly. That said, the orchestra played with limpid smoothness and full-bodied luxury. And there was nothing to distract the ear, like dancing on stage, nothing to distract one from the full appreciation of Tchaikovsky’s genius.
There was also some familiar Glinka (Overture to “Russlan and Ludmilla”), Rimsky-Korsakov (Polonaise from “Christmas Eve”) and Humperdinck (Prelude and “Dream Pantomime” from the opera “Hansel and Gretel”).
The most fulfilling moments were Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in G Minor, transcribed for Viola: fulfilling in that the music was complete and well-played. The Dukas is fun, especially with Walt Disney’s vivid images from his film “Fantasia” clearly in mind. The Vivladi, with SSO principal violist Susan Gulkis Assadi as the soloist, worked in every conceivable way. She possesses a handsome tone of considerable depth that makes one hungry to hear the instrument in this kind of setting more often. She played the outer movements with alacrity and clarity and poise. Every note could be readily heard, all done with stylistic verve. The Andante had a welcome breadth and beauty. Her reading of the concerto was splendid from every standpoint.