A review of Northwest Sinfonietta with visiting Cuban musicians at Benaroya Hall on Friday night, Oct. 5, 2012.

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Concert Review |

It would have taken a more than ordinarily determined churl not to be moved and inspired by what happened in Benaroya Hall on Friday evening under the auspices of the Northwest Sinfonietta. Musicians from Cuba sat down to play together with musicians from the United States — part of an initiative that grew out of the sister-city relationship between Tacoma and Cienfuegos.

The music? Well, there could hardly have been a more apposite choice to celebrate the concept of human brotherhood than Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, whose choral finale addresses the subject directly. But also, in honor of the occasion, Christophe Chagnard conducted some pieces by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona — “La Comparsa,” in Morton Gould’s arrangement, proving the slinkily seductive gem of the three. And one of the eight participating members of Cienfuegos’ Concert Chamber Orchestra of the South, violist Jesús Manuel Carnero de la Teja, took the podium for a rousing performance of Andrés Alén’s “Danzón Legrand.”

The Beethoven after intermission had plenty going for it too, including spirited singing by Freddie Coleman’s Seattle Choral Company and a talented group of soloists: soprano Jennifer Bromagen, mezzo Sarah Mattox, tenor Stephen Rumph, and baritone Clayton Brainerd. But it might not be unfair to suggest that two simultaneous performances of this summit of Beethoven’s symphonic output were taking place.

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Audience involvement is an essential element in any symphonic performance. On this occasion, after two cleanly and convincingly played movements, the rest of the performance seemed to me to split the obvious performer-listener symbiosis in two.

The slow movement was denatured by a lack of weight in the orchestra’s usually cultivated string tone. Much orchestral detail, especially from the horns, was lost in the textural shuffle. Intonation was less than immaculate. And in the intrinsically breathtaking finale, some of the tempos were so frenetic as to allow neither the singers nor the orchestra time to articulate their parts effectively (except for fine oboe solos by Shannon Spicciati and some crisp work by the orchestra’s piccolo-player).

As a result, for those in the audience familiar with the work, memory and imagination had to fill in the gaps of execution. Newcomers to the Ninth, meanwhile, must wait for another performance in order to experience it fully, though there was enough honest music-making going on, and enough sheer visceral excitement in play, to provide a lot of pleasure, as acknowledged by a rapturous standing ovation at the concert’s end.

Bernard Jacobson: bernardijacobson@comcast.net

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