Gerard Schwarz has long been associated with the great orchestral works of Richard Strauss, which he has conducted, arranged, and recorded. This is music Schwarz knows inside out, and the current Seattle Symphony all-Strauss program displays both the maestro and the orchestra in excellent form.
The orchestra, aligned in Schwarz’s preferred configuration with the first and second violin sections on opposites sides of the podium, gets a tremendous workout in this repertoire: huge, large-scale pieces requiring brilliant colors, exposed virtuoso solos, and the delicious late-romantic sonority that Strauss requires. Four pieces of varying degrees of familiarity were featured, from the heroic “Don Juan” to the infrequently heard neo-baroque Suite from Divertimento (Op. 86). Alongside those two were the quirky, one-movement Burleske for piano and orchestra, and the grand finale, Schwarz’s own arrangement of a suite from the opera “Der Rosenkavalier.”
Would the audience get Straussed out? Not with all this variety and Schwarz’s heartfelt interpretations of these extremely varied scores. Those who like virtuoso piano music were delighted by soloist William Wolfram’s mighty technique and keyboard finesse in the Burleske. Listeners who love the Baroque era were intrigued and perhaps amazed as this musical style was jolted forward into the 20th century. Its not often that you hear a trombone alongside a harpsichord.
All this Strauss showcased some fine playing in the orchestra, particularly by oboist Ben Hausmann (in the “Don Juan,” and in a lovely “Rosenkavalier” duet with concertmaster Alexander Velinzon). Timpanist Michael Crusoe deserved an extra bow for his star turn in the Burleske.
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The “Rosenkavalier” Suite, which Schwarz arranged in 2006 and subsequently conducted here, ingeniously underscores the drama of the opera. The performance gave a lovely glitter to the Presentation of the Rose scene, and the waltz sequences had an easy lilt that might have pleased Schwarz’s own forebears (who came from Vienna).
Rough edges in the ensemble were few and far between. Though the blend in the horn section could sometimes have been better, the players rose admirably to the challenges Strauss so often presented to an instrument he knew well (the composer’s father was a professional horn player). Jeff Fair and Mark Robbins alternated as horn principals.
One chance remains to hear this program, on Saturday evening. It’s Strauss worth savoring.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.