Martinů , Shostakovich, Honegger, and Haydn in Seattle

Martinů , Shostakovich, Honegger, and Haydn: Jakub Hrůša (conductor), Vladimir Feltsman (piano), Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 5.5.2011 (BJ)

Just a week after Pietari Inkinen’s impressive appearance, it was the turn of another talented young conductor to make his mark with his Seattle Symphony debut. Born in 1981 in the then Czechoslovakia, Jakub Hrůša demonstrated a maturity beyond his years, along with a generous endowment of the musicality to which age is perhaps irrelevant.

I don’t know how far the program was of his own devising, but it was uncommonly satisfyingly designed: two main works of partly jocular but also substantial character, preceded in each half of the evening by Martinů and Honegger that provided apt introductions and also clearly spoke to the conductor’s tastes. These shorter works, more consistently serious, were mostly of a lyrical stamp, though the Toccata e due canzoni are perhaps less so, and more restrained in expression than some of Martinů’s music. But both it and Honegger’s idyllic dreamy Pastorale d’été received readings imbued with warmth and played seductively by the smallish orchestral forces involved, with fine contributions from concertmaster Maria Larionoff in the Martinů and principal horn John Cerminaro in the Honegger.

In Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto, seriousness rubs shoulders with mischievous and at times positively raucous levity. Both qualities were vividly realized in this performance. Vladimir Feltsman – much more in his element here, I thought, than in the Brahms concertos he played back in 2007 – was the very embodiment of urbane wit. This was wonderfully stylish pianism, crisp in rhythm and luminous in tone. The orchestra provided excellent support, and David Gordon dispatched the quasi-solo trumpet part with characteristic precision and tonal allure.

Haydn’s 60th Symphony, known as “Il distratto” (“The Distracted Man”) after the play to which it originated as incidental music, reveals a sense of humor no less delightful than Shostakovich’s. Hrůša did equal justice to the antic elements in the piece and the solid musical aspects that are never missing from a work by Haydn. Given that Kimberly Russ was already on hand to play the orchestral piano part in the Martinů, it seemed a shade perverse to perform the Haydn without keyboard continuo, which can enrich the otherwise bare textures of some passages to valuable effect. But judiciously chosen tempos, lively rhythms, and clean phrasing ensured that the work came off a treat. And what a treat it is, by the way, to encounter a Haydn symphony accorded the important end-of-program slot, rather than being tossed off as a mere curtain-raiser! Let us hope Maestro Morlot’s similar policy with the 88th Symphony, when he made his Seattle Symphony debut last season, presages more of the same from his coming regime.

Bernard Jacobson