The program of Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” and “Alpine Symphony,” with principal guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard and soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin, repeats June 17. On Thursday night, the SSO honored retiring trumpeter Geoffrey Bergler.
It’s always a thrill when the Seattle Symphony presents those late-romantic over-the-top works that require extra instrumentation. The current SSO program of music by Richard Strauss, unveiled Thursday evening, presents an orchestra of exciting proportions: extra woodwinds, a forest of French horns, exotic percussion (wind machine and thunder sheet), and massive brass (two tubas), all producing prodigious and sumptuous sound levels in two masterpieces.
The orchestra’s popular principal guest conductor, Thomas Dausgaard, was on the podium, opening with Strauss’ autumnal “Four Last Songs,” and concluding with the vividly pictorial “Alpine Symphony.” Luckily, Dausgaard brought along soprano soloist Gun-Brit Barkmin for the “Four Last Songs,” much to the delight of the audience. Barkmin, a German-born singer whose opera career includes a lot of Strauss and Wagner, proved a revelation.
Huge and supple, her expressive voice makes the music sound effortless, soaring above the staff with ease and warmth, and with obvious deep understanding of the autumnal songs (she performed these complicated, shifting pieces without a score).
With Thomas Dausgaard conducting and Gun-Brit Barkmin, soprano soloist, repeats 8 p.m. Saturday (June 17), Benaroya Hall, Seattle; tickets from $22 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
Dausgaard was the most closely attentive podium partner, watching and encouraging the soloist in every line of the score.
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After the last song, the audience provided such an enthusiastic ovation that Barkmin returned for an encore: “Morgen,” one of Strauss’ loveliest art songs (especially with the participation of concertmaster Cordula Merks). Dausgaard proved adept at conducting the audience, too: when a few audience members began to applaud between the movements of the “Four Last Songs,” his raised hand in a “stop!” gesture immediately silenced the clapping. Nothing, however, would induce the audience to remain silent for several moments after the gargantuan musical journey of the “Alpine Symphony,” in spite of Dausgaard’s clear wish for a pause before the applause.
When the music is that exciting, it’s hard for an audience to stay in silent reflection after the music stops. The sheer scale of this 47-minute score, which vividly depicts an alpine ascent that reaches a mountaintop after dangerous trials — including a very pictorial storm — is almost overwhelming, especially when supplemented by the mighty tones of the hall’s Watjen Concert Organ (skillfully played by Joseph Adam).
The concert was preceded by a graceful tribute to retiring trumpeter Geoffrey Bergler, by his SSO violist colleague Timothy Hale. It was evident in the audience’s warm applause that concertgoers care about the “symphony family” and enjoy recognizing a career devoted to bringing great music to the community.