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Slavic brilliance at Seattle Symphony
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Slavic brilliance at Seattle Symphony

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Seattle Symphony
with Alexander Toradze
April 3
Benaroya Hall


Easily the most satisfying part of last week's Seattle Symphony concert was the opening 'Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen' by Leoa Janácek. What a pleasure to re-enter the special, atmospheric world of Janácek's little animals! Gerard Schwarz knows his way around this music, having conducted it here in Seattle Opera's delightful production (in which his daughter was a 'super'). The Symphony players were responsive, and much of Janácek's unique harmonies and energy came through very well.

More exciting, if less satisfying, was the Prokofiev 'Piano Concerto No. 5.' The fault lay less in the artists than in the work itself. While some of the composer's wit and charm came through, I found the concerto less successful than the earlier works for this genre. Certainly Alexander Toradze's playing left little to be desired. Looking incredibly like Humpty Dumpty, this rotund man of a certain age was a bubble of energy ready to burst. He sat on a very slanted bench, leaning towards the keyboard, threatening to topple forward. Indeed, he had a traction mat taped to the stage floor to keep his feet from slipping forward.

The power of his appropriately percussive playing led one audience member to whistle in appreciation after the first movement, to which Toradze's big fleshy face gave an approving nod and smile. The audience erupted in laughter. It was fun to watch this man's athletic performance. He also gave full due to quieter, more lyrical moments. And Schwarz and the SSO members excelled in this complex score, even if they swamped Toradze's big sound early on.

Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' occupied the second half. The SSO and Schwarz have done this often enough to play it easily and well. Of special note were Ko-irchiro Yamamoto's solos on the euphonium and David Gordon's silvery trumpet work. But the overall, performance lacked imagination and spark. Even the grand 'The Great Gate of Kiev' lacked punch, leaving us let down a notch or two from the fireworks of Toradze's fingers (one of which he actually cut on the keyboard at Thursday's performance!).

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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