Andrew Manze is back in town, and that’s excellent news for music lovers.
The British-born conductor, who first shot to fame in the 1990s as a particularly charismatic baroque violinist, returned to the Seattle Symphony podium Thursday to conduct an excellent concert that solidified his earlier impression of depth, charm, and great communication with both the orchestra and the audience. Thursday’s was the first of two programs spanning several centuries — 17th-century Purcell through 20th-century Vaughan Williams.
In between those two English composers was one of Mozart’s most charming piano concertos, the No. 23 in A Major (K.488), with soloist Simone Dinnerstein. An introspective and sensitive artist, Dinnerstein launched her career with a distinctively original 2007 recording of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” — a work of which there’s no shortage of great interpretations. Hers had an eloquently limpid, dulcet fluency and clean articulations, qualities Dinnerstein brought to her Mozart concerto here. The smoothly flowing piano lines might have pleased Mozart himself, who famously wrote that his music should “flow like oil.” But it also was possible to wish for more variety of touch and more dynamic range in all that elegant playing.
Manze took the microphone to introduce the works on the program, a practice that works best when the conductor’s remarks are witty, illuminating, and fairly short. This was mostly the case on Thursday, when listeners learned everything from the correct pronunciation of “Purcell” (equal emphasis on both syllables, “like ‘ice cream’ ”) to the emotional wartime reception to the premiere of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5 in the dark days of 1942.
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But mainly, Manze let his fingers do the talking — specifically, his long, expressive left hand, which reached right into the orchestra and drew the most eloquent, involved playing from the musicians. An active and dynamic conductor, Manze urged the players on, encouraging and coaxing with his gestures, and they responded with alacrity. Many of them (though not all) even cut back on the vibrato for the nicely detailed suite of four Purcell pieces, in arrangements by both Benjamin Britten and Manze. Most of the playing was excellent, too, though Thursday wasn’t a great night for the brass section.
Some sprightly Purcell, some serene Mozart, and a heartfelt Vaughan Williams Fifth: quite an enticement for Saturday night.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.