Morlot’s Debussy Will Be Sorely Missed

14/11/2018

 Debussy, Dusapin, Tchaikovsky: Viktoria Mullova (violin), Matthew Barley (cello), Seattle Symphony / Ludovic Morlot (conductor), Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 11.8.2018. (ZC)

Viktoria Mullova

Viktoria Mullova

Debussy — Petite Suite
Dusapin — At Swim-Two-Birds
Tchaikovsky — Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36

Pascal Dusapin’s At Swim-Two-Birds, his ambitious concerto for violin and cello, was the main draw at this Seattle Symphony concert, on a program billed by music director Ludovic Morlot as encompassing three centuries of classical music. In addition to Dusapin, one of the 21st century’s prominent musical voices, the evening included works by Debussy, who propelled modernism a century ago, and Tchaikovsky, who revolutionized Russian Romantic music in the late 19th century.

Tchaikovsky’s Fourth has become a staple in the orchestral repertory in part because of the tumultuous story of its creation. Through letters to Nadezhda von Meck, we now know the inner turmoil that consumed the composer. Struggling with his homosexuality, Tchaikovsky married Antonina Miliukova, a former student, but left her after less than three months. Living with someone he felt no attraction to simply became a torment that was too great to bear. Years later, he confessed that he waded into the Moscow River in the hope that he would contract a fatal chill, an escape that never materialized. His work on the Fourth Symphony turned out to be a better escape for the 37-year-old composer.

Most successful interpretations of the symphony are dramatic, foreboding and tinged with nostalgia, with each movement propelled by weighty strings, lilting winds and pungent brass. Morlot’s reading had some of these qualities, but not enough to call the performance definitive. The strong contributions of the brass section, and horns in particular, carried the first movement, with their icy blasts setting a foreboding tone. Morlot’s preference for brisk tempos and sharp phrasing helped by underscoring the movement’s inherent tension. In the second, however, this became a liability. The approach undercut the winds and sweetened the nostalgia. A playful, springy third movement reset the audience, but sloppiness by the percussion section marred the ebullience of the finale, and the fine work of the strings and horns.

At Swim-Two-Birds for violin, cello and orchestra is Dusapin’s contribution to the double concerto repertory. Co-commissioned by Seattle and a number of European orchestras, the piece was written for the husband and wife duo of violinist Viktoria Mullova and cellist Matthew Barley. Dusapin drew inspiration from Flann O’Brien’s book of the same name, and the author’s narrative framework provided a new way to think about the relationship between soloists and orchestra. Instead of pitting soloists against the orchestra, the composer sets up his soloists as voices that are both complementary with the larger ensemble and distinct from it. Dusapin constructs music of beguiling difficulty and natural momentum, but there is little that struck me as memorable (though judging a new piece from one performance is difficult). Hearing additional performances and a recording or two may reveal more enduring qualities to this complex composition.

Mullova was by far the stronger of the two soloists. Both she and Barley traversed Dusapin’s harrowing score with great skill and dexterity, but while her violin seduced the audience with a rich, full, singing tone, the cellist was barely audible at times.

Debussy’s Petite Suite, orchestrated by Henri Büsser, offered a breezy opening, and continued the conductor’s survey of the composer. Morlot’s mastery will be missed when he ends his tenure with the orchestra next year. Very few conductors can draw out the composer’s detail and color. For an all too brief fourteen minutes, Morlot reminded us how much the ensemble has grown and matured under his masterful leadership.

Zach Carstensen

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! Bregenz Festival 17 July – 18 August 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Sergei Polunin and Friends at London Palladium 28 May – 1 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 Elgar Festival in Worcester from 30 May to 2 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces 2019 Art-Song Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Adrian Partington Introduces the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Conversation with John Quinn __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Longborough Festival Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces Winners of Emerging Dancer 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! YOUNG RUSSIAN PIANIST ALEXANDRA DOVGAN TALKS TO GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon on 30 June __________________________________
  • NEW! When Music is Indistinguishable from Drama by Jack Buckley __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month