Pianist Simon Trpceski played Damir Imeri's "Fantasy on Two Folk Tunes" with obvious enjoyment Thursday, April 19, with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, led with grace and precision by guest conductor Susanna Mälkki. The program will be repeated Saturday, April 21.

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Concert review |

It has been almost 10 years since the pianist Simon Trpceski made his Seattle Symphony (and U.S.) debut and catapulted into the top ranks of this city’s favorite keyboard artists. Now an international star, Trpceski cheerily addressed Thursday night’s Seattle Symphony audience from the stage, telling them how glad he was to return to Benaroya Hall.

The young Macedonian went on to introduce the U.S. premiere of the “Fantasy on Two Folk Tunes” (for piano solo and orchestra), by his countryman Damir Imeri. Seldom has a premiere been played with such obvious enjoyment: Trpceski sang along with one of the folk tunes as he played this dashing and colorful score.

That wasn’t all: Trpceski also was the soloist in the Ravel G Major Piano Concerto, a jazzy and cheeky work that has all the insouciance of Paris in the late 1920s. He played with an almost explosive energy in the opening Allegramente movement, but the slower second movement emerged as a quietly private reverie — all graceful touch and wistful melody. (Stefan Farkas’ English horn solo, which later took over the same melody, was remarkably good.) The finale went like a rocket, propelling Trpceski to his feet after the final chords.

Finnish guest conductor Susanna Mälkki combined graceful precision and fiery energy throughout the program. Her expressive hands shaped the music and made her intentions abundantly clear to the orchestra, which followed her closely all evening. This was a musical lineup that required a strong lead, with not only the Imeri premiere and the concerto but also the Henri Dutilleux Symphony No. 1, which launched the evening.

Dutilleux, now 96, is a favorite composer of Symphony music director Ludovic Morlot, who has programmed other works by this composer in the current season. The Symphony No. 1, complex and challenging, flourished in the hands of Mälkki, whose clarity and energy gave the players a clear direction.

The final bonbon of this mostly-French program was Paul Dukas’ beloved “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” in a vividly characterized performance with a great sense of fun (especially in some of the dramatically exaggerated solo work). Unfortunately, despite the familiar Dukas, the audience size was relatively small; the program carried that undeniable whiff of the unfamiliar, which is not yet audience catnip at the Seattle Symphony.

Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at mbargreen@aol.com.