Any concert that offers two undisputed orchestral masterpieces side by side is bound to attract some notice. The Seattle Symphony’s current program, pairing the Brahms Violin Concerto with Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra,” drew a large and appreciative audience that also was eager to check out the merits of soloist Alexander Velinzon.
Velinzon, the orchestra’s current concertmaster, has been heard in several shorter solos with the symphony, but this concerto appearance on a subscription program was his most prominent outing thus far. He did not disappoint, giving a solid and accomplished performance of the noble Brahms Concerto with music director Ludovic Morlot — the man who brought Velinzon to Seattle — on the podium.
Velinzon’s Brahms was expansive and unhurried, his tone moderately sized and flexible, and his technique well able to handle the concerto’s demands. Morlot and the orchestra gave him attentive support, including an eloquent oboe solo from principal Ben Hausmann. (Hausmann went on to shine in the Bartok solos as well.) Velinzon’s performance drew a warm ovation.
The “Concerto for Orchestra” was given its name by Bartok in recognition of the substantial solo demands placed upon all the sections of the orchestra, with almost everyone getting a considerable workout. The five movements are tricky to coordinate; solos flow in and out, with section after section picking up the musical threads. Morlot’s account of this colorful score was high energy, almost driven, but it worked; the players responded with remarkable alacrity.
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There was mighty, thrilling brass, particularly in the first movement with its dramatic conclusion; fluent woodwind solos and duets, and considerable wit in the scoring (including a brass Bronx cheer and a rude remark from the trombone section). Morlot drew excellent and well characterized playing from his musicians, highlighting important motifs and coordinating the complicated traffic of all those section solos.
It’s a pleasure to hear an orchestra on its toes in a virtuoso piece like this. As the Seattle Symphony prepares for its trip to Carnegie Hall, where the orchestra is scheduled to perform on May 6, its vital signs are heartening indeed.
Seattle listeners can hear the Carnegie program (works of Varèse, Debussy, and John Luther Adams) for free at Benaroya Hall on May 2 (at 7 p.m.); afterward, at 10 p.m. in the hall’s lobby, members of the orchestra will also play a free performance of a mostly contemporary chamber program they’ll perform in New York at the Poisson Rouge.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.