By R.M. Campbell
Nearing the end of its current season, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra is pairing the famous with the obscure for three concerts at Benaroya Hall starting Thursday night.
Both composers are in the pantheon of Western icons — Richard Wagner and Felix Mendelssohn — but the works offered are less obvious. Wagner’s “Parsifal” rings through Western civilization. For some it carries too much weight, but, in fact, it is a profound piece of art. The opera opened McCaw Hall, in 2003, a new production by Seattle Opera, which completed the company’s survey the composer’s canon of 10 operas. Thursday night was not the same as viewing, and hearing the entire opera, but the performance had the merit of simply being with this music another time. Gerard Schwarz, SSO music director, chose three excerpts: the preludes to Act I and III and the “Good Friday Spell.” To the good particularly were the warm string sound and long, seamless phrases. On the not-so-good side were inexact attacks and sloppy phrases. Not enough rehearsal perhaps?
Mendelssohn’s “Lobgesang” is on the other side of the aisle of popularity. Performances are rare: most people probably have never heard it. There are reasons for that. It is a remarkably uninteresting piece of music in spite of expansive choral writing and effective vocal writing for the three soloists, all of whom were excellent at Benaroya: sopranos Christine Goerke and Holli Harrison and tenor Vinson Cole. The Seattle Symphony Chorale was in generally good shape, sound well-assembled, balance keen. The orchestra played well. The only difficulty was the piece itself. For a man of such felicity, “Lobesang” (“Hymn of Praise”) caught Mendelssohn on his day off. It is always good to hear music that is not performed with any regularity, but the reasons for that are often because it is simply not very good. Such is this piece.