Popular program at Benaroya

By R.M. Campbell

If ever there were a symphony program designed to please, it was Thursday night at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra playing Gershwin and Tchaikovsky. Predictably audiences will love it.

A third work was performed, in its Seattle premiere — Cindy McTee’s “Double Play.” Born in Tacoma and educated at Pacific Lutheran University as well as Yale University and University of Iowa, McTee will not be upsetting any apple carts with this piece, composed in two sections but played as one Thursday. It was premiered last year by the Detroit Symphony of which Leonard Slatkin, SSO guest conductor for the night, is the music director. The work is tonally appealing, well-crafted and oiled, making no attempt to be in fashion musically but also making no attempt to go backward in time and spirit. She has plenty of ideas which she has assembled into a coherent whole.

Gershwin’s “Concerto in F” needs no introduction, at least in the United States. Even with that, it doesn’t get a lot of respect in high music circles. But what a lot of tunes Gershwin invented, one after the other. It seems to me the principal problem with performances is that they don’t swing, They don’t take advantage of all the material in front of them, no matter how well executed. That was the case with Slatkin, although he observed all the notes with scrupulous attention to details. Jean-Ives Thibaudt was the soloist. He, too, played everything correctly, but where were the hints of wildness and freedom that Gershwin could not help infuse into his music?

David Gordon, principal trumpet, played with ease and let the music breathe. He was a pleasure to hear. Gordon will solo with the orchestra in concerts May 5-8.

The last three symphonies of Tchaikovsky are always welcome, even the Second. The fifth is very familiar even to the most casual of concert-goers. The work is sumptuous and rich in melodic fervor. Slatkin, conducting without a score, gave the piece his total attention, drawing out all that he could, which is considerable. There was thunder and lightning, but melancholy and longing as well. The symphony succeeds even in the most pedestrian of performances. That was not the case with Slatkin. Although one could cavil about balance issues between the woodwinds and the strings in the final, movement, for instance, there was much to admire.

Solos abound in the Fifth, most notably the one for the French horn in the Andante. John Cerminaro, principal French horn, takes to this celebrated music with grace and beauty. His tone is really an extraordinary coupling of the heroic and mellow. His phrasing is a wonder of soft attacks and a magnificent legato. But he was not alone. The woodwinds shined in every phrase. Ben Hausmann, principal oboe, has never been better and that is to say a lot. Seth Krimsky, principal bassoon, had major assignments all night, including the Tchaikovsky, where he was in particularly good form. Also to be noted is Christopher Sereque, principal clarinet, and Scott Goff, principal flute. The woodwinds now play with exceptional skill on a routine basis. Thursday was one of the best.

The program will be repeated Friday and Saturday nights.

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