By R. M. Campbell
Thursday’s concert of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall possessed the kind of programming in which a guest conductor can easily make a big impression: Borodin, Khachaturian and Shostakovich. And so Teodor Currentzis, Greek-born, Russian resident, did in some quarters.
“Polovtsian Dances” from Borodin’s opera “Prince Igor” are more standard fare than the opera itself, which is only rarely done despite its wealth of colorful and appealing music. The set of dances, which were excerpted in his concert, set forth the reasons with their immediately tuneful melodies and rich orchestration. Currentzis, however, raced through the suite with no breath taken for anything. One phrase was dumped into another, nothing was shaped, ensemble dicey. I can’t remember a less enjoyable performance of music designed purely for aural pleasure. In the opera, they make for a vivid experience.
Maria Larionoff, who leaves her position as concertmaster at the end of the season, was the soloist in the Khachaturian Violin Concerto. Written for the great Russian violinist David Oistrakh in 1938, the piece was designed for a virtuoso musician. It places all sorts of technical demands on the soloist. Larionoff met those challenges straight on with conviction. Nothing seemed too demanding. She has always been a technically resourceful violinist. Yet, in the end that was all there was; miles of passage work without much purpose. Her playing had little character and lacked multiple dimensions. She has never possessed a big sound, and I was particularly aware of that Thursday night, when she barely rose upon the orchestral sound. And one cannot blame Currentzis for covering her unduly He did not. It all seemed an empty gesture.
The program ended with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Paul Schavio went on at length in the program about the controversy surrounding its premiere in 1937. Although he gave a balanced account of its birth and reception, I wish people would just address themselves to the music itself. The conductor followed most of the conventional signposts in the celebrated work, but there was little that was original or particularly telling. The best performances of the symphony are riveting; Currentzis’ was not. It seemed almost placid by comparison.
The orchestra certainly played well, with a number of soloists who should be mentioned: Scott Goff, the splendid principal flutist, who is retiring at the end of the season after decades of service to the orchestra; the excellent Emma McGrath, guest concertmaster; Christopher Sereque, principal clarinet; Dan Williams, guest principal oboe.
The program will be repeated Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.