By R.M. Campbell
With a German guest conductor and the superb violinist Leila Josefowicz as the soloist, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra was in fine fettle Thursday night at Benaroya Hall.
Alexander Mickelthwate exuded youth and energy on the podium. But he was more than that. He had insight, depth and stylistic range. Josefowicz is known in Seattle not only for her virtuosity but her musical aplomb, seamless phrases and soaring sound.
Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite opened the evening. This is a charming bit of music, sometimes quirky, sometimes witty, sometimes touching. Mickelthwate captured all those qualities. He revealed his sensitivity to Ravel’s intentions and musical ambitions with a reading that oozed style and goodwill. With its five tales, the suite possesses immense imagination and individuality. Mickelthwate managed to establish the character of each section with accuracy and quickness and subtlety. The orchestra responded in kind.
Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony is an integral part of the symphonic canon despite attempts by critics and connoisseurs to dislodge it. Ultimately, in these cases the will of the public cannot be denied. Mickelthwate demonstrated a good many of the reasons why it has maintained its popularity on the concert platform for nearly 100 years. Just as the conductor drew out the filagree and fine point of the Ravel, he got the huge, romantic sweep of the symphony. It was a high octane performance with a powerful sense of momentum. Early on there were some issues with articulation of details and attacks, but soon the symphony, and perhaps the conductor, settled in, and the entirety of the piece was revealed. Mickelthwate did not hesitate to evoke the high emotion of the score, with its extraordinary climaxes. The second movement was tightly coiled and riveting while the Adagio was magnificent in its breadth and long, expansive lines.
The orchestra played with as much bravura as it has in its bones and musicality to boot. Some solos need to be credited and given high praise: the gorgeous sound of Stefan Farkas, English horn; Christopher Sereque, clarinet; John Cerminaro, French horn.
Written in his early twenties, Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto is not a major work. Josefowicz made it seem like one. She easily took hold of all of its technical challenges and dispensed them with ready skill. But she also exuded some of the sheer beauty of the music itself and made it credible.
Not all conductors are interesting to watch. Mickelthwate is. His arms are eloquent and his body expressive, without resorting to podium gymnastics. He may be young but he conducts with poise and confidence. I hope he returns soon.
The program will be repeated Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.