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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 20, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 20
Symphony's Telemann, Bachs very well served
Arts & Entertainment
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Symphony's Telemann, Bachs very well served

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Ton Koopman with members of Seattle Symphony
May 14
Benaroya Hall


When first I encountered Ton Koopman, he was playing an organ recital on the new tracker-action organ at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in downtown Seattle. He gave us Bach's 'Toccata and Fugue in D minor' that was, and still is, the most cogent and exciting I have ever heard.

This time, many years later, this distinguished-looking man led members of the Seattle Symphony and his wife, Tini Mathot, on harpsichord, in works by C.P.E. Bach, J. S. Bach, and Georg Philipp Telemann. Koopman is now 68, but he has lost none of his energy or enthusiasm for Baroque music. He led the players with his whole body, sometimes leaving the floor. And this energetic manner was effective, for among the many Baroque ensembles I have heard, I have never witnessed better precision or more spirited playing than we got from this group of Seattle Symphony players. Excuse me, but I was under the impression that it took years of playing together to achieve this kind of cohesion! Credit both Koopman's skills and the excellence of the members of the Seattle Symphony.

The entire first half was devoted to music of C.P.E. Bach, whose music has not especially grabbed me before this occasion. While I'm still not a total convert, I found more than enough wit and novelty in this music to keep me happy. Melodic invention was not completely lacking, but what impressed most was the sense of a rebellious nature that was seeking new forms in unexpected rhythms, jagged outbursts of volume, and a sort of thumbing-his-nose playfulness.

The works were 'Sinfonia in G major,' 'Double Harpsichord Concerto in F major,' and 'Sinfonia in D major.' Mathot played harpsichord continuo in all of them and paired with her husband for the work for two harpsichords and orchestra. The orchestra was led by Elisa Barston, principal second violin of the SSO. Next to her was Mikhail Shmidt. Watching the two of them play together was a joy, as was witnessing their exuberance in this music. Virtually no vibrato clouded the notes, which were like pipe cleaners for the brain. The small size of the group, coupled with their precision, made everything super-clear and alive. The number of players varied according to the work being played. At its largest, we had two horns, two oboes, a bassoon, two harpsichords, and a small component of strings.

What a contrast when we visited J.S. Bach after intermission, with his 'Sinfonia from Cantata No. 42'! Johann Sebastian certainly did more than his share of innovating, but in this piece there was no breaking out of forms such as Carl Philipp exhibited. Rather it was like a celebration of the elegance of form. Within it, the duo of oboes carried on a relaxed conversation with the strings. A beautiful gem!

The concert concluded with the altogether pleasant but not terribly exciting 'Tafelmusik III Suite and Conclusion.'

What a shame that such a fine concert should play to an audience less than one-third full! (I have written in detail about what happens to Benaroya's acoustics when most seats are empty.) One hopes that the excitement of Ludovic Morlot's ascension as music director next season will generate more interest.

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

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