With Ludovic Morlot conducting at the Seattle Symphony, English tenor Mark Padmore gave an adroit performance of Benjamin Britten’s song cycle “Nocturne” and Karol Szymanowski’s vast “Song of the Night.”
The Seattle Symphony has brought a little night music to Benaroya Hall in its current program, which offers two classics and two seldom-heard works relating to nocturnal themes. The Thursday-night audience heard an imaginative, well-played concert under the direction of music director Ludovic Morlot.
Two of the works — both overtures — are familiar to symphonic fans: Mendelssohn’s sparkling overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Tchaikovsky’s instantly recognizable “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.” The other two works, both products of the 20th century, are considerably less familiar, and were an ear-opening experience at Benaroya Hall.
The only reason to program Britten’s song cycle “Nocturne” is the availability of a first-rate tenor, and the Symphony definitely had one in the evening’s soloist, Mark Padmore. The quintessential English tenor, Padmore has won acclaim for all kinds of repertoire, from early music and baroque works through more contemporary music. Padmore is an extraordinarily expressive singer — his wide range, vocal agility, tone quality and musicality make him an ideal choice for the Britten.
The Seattle Symphony Orchestra: ‘Music and the Bard’
With Ludovic Morlot conducting and tenor soloist Mark Padmore. Repeats 8 p.m. Saturday, April 23, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 24, at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $35-$121 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
Padmore negotiated the angular lines of this complex score with alacrity and finesse, with conductor Ludovic Morlot providing well-balanced and supportive orchestral accompaniment. The exquisitely lyrical music written for such lines as “She dreams of golden gardens” (Wilfred Owen’s “The Kind Ghosts”), and the anguish of Wordsworth’s “Sleep no more!” (in “The Prelude”) were vividly realized in Padmore’s performance. Several orchestral principal players provided particularly beautiful solo work, with Stefan Farkas’ English horn among the most memorable.
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The tenor returned for some brief, telling solos in Karol Szymanowski’s vast “Song of the Night” (Symphony No. 3), a massively scored work premiered in 1928. The Benaroya Hall stage was stuffed with extra players, extra instruments and the Seattle Symphony Chorale on risers, all supported by the Watjen Organ and occasionally rising to volume levels that may have approached a new decibel record for the hall.
If you are thinking a tenor soloist might not have much of a chance to be heard above these forces, you would be right — but Padmore was impressive all the same, rising above the dense chords and constantly shifting textures whenever it was humanly possible. The evening’s concertmaster, Elisa Barston, played the extensive violin solos admirably.
Finally, when the crowds of performers left the stage after the Szymanowski, we heard Morlot conduct the piece that provided the title for this program: Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.” It felt like an afterthought after such a big-moment work, but the sheer beauty of Tchaikovsky’s well-worn score showed that in the world of symphonic music, size doesn’t really matter.