You could tell the audience was primed for a great performance from Efe Baltacigil on Thursday evening. The cellist — principal cello of the Seattle Symphony, and the current concerto soloist — got a hero’s welcome as he came out to play the Dvorák Cello Concerto with the orchestra and music director Ludovic Morlot.

Immensely popular with Seattle audiences (partly from his stellar stints with the Seattle Chamber Music Society), Baltacigil gave a brilliant and deeply personal performance of a concerto that has been played here by so many greats, from Rostropovich to Starker. This is an interpretation that can stand with the best of them.

Effortlessly lyrical and very subtle, Baltacigil made a lot of points with an elegant pianissimo, well-supported by Morlot and the orchestra. The cellist sailed through the bravura passages that often cause trouble with an ease that belied their difficulty. After the triumphant ending of the first movement, you could almost hear the audience’s effort in trying not to applaud and spoil the moment.

Baltacigil’s joy in the music was reflected in his expressive face, which frequently wore the expression of a World Cup player who has just scored the winning goal. That joy was echoed in the audience after the final chords, when the standing ovation was so enthusiastic that the cellist finally returned for an encore.

Save 75% on a Digital Subscription Today

The Allemande movement from Bach’s Suite No. 6 in D Major was enough to make listeners wish for an all-Bach evening from this remarkable player. We can only hope he’s very, very happy in Seattle.

The program also featured two works Morlot and the orchestra will bring to Carnegie Hall in May (along with a third work by John Luther Adams): Edgard Varèse’s “Déserts” and Debussy’s familiar “La Mer.” It’s never a good sign when the conductor has to take to the microphone to explain a piece to the audience, encouraging them regarding its brevity (“only 14 minutes!”), warning them that “not many people love it,” and explaining that the Varèse is “the music of the next generation.”

If that last is true, it has taken the next generation a while to find its voice. “Déserts” was premiered 60 years ago. For this listener, the chief joy of the Varèse performance was watching the choreography as two tuba players simultaneously install and remove their enormous mutes, a sight seldom seen on the Benaroya stage.

“La Mer” found Morlot and the orchestra at their best, producing urgent, lyrical washes of colors that positively shimmered throughout every section. Warm, well balanced and full of life, this is an orchestral sound of remarkable beauty — a sound that’s definitely ready for the Big Apple.

Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING-FM. She can be reached at