Susanna Mälkki Continues Seattle Survey of Dutilleux

United StatesUnited States  Dutilleux, Imeri, Ravel, and Dukas: Simon Trpčeski (piano), Seattle Symphony, Susanna Mälkki (conductor), Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 11.4.2012 (BJ)

It’s good to find music director Ludovic Morlot willing to share his exploration of the music of Henri Dutilleux with other conductors. Susanna Mälkki, from Finland, was the guest on this occasion, and she led an assured performance of one of the French master’s early works, his First Symphony.

This may be a less imaginatively poetic work than some of those to which Dutilleux gave evocative titles, but it is beautiful music, and boldly constructed, with first and last movements in variation form (the first a passacaglia) enclosing a fairly traditional scherzo and a warmly lyrical slow intermezzo. The Seattle Symphony, with assistant principals heading both violin sections (Simon James and Michael Miropolsky) and the cellos (Theresa Benshoof), responded with suitably luxuriant tone and admirably tight ensemble to Ms. Mälkki’s admirably clear and unfussy beat.

After this substantial opening, the rest of the program was devoted to works of relatively light character. Even Ravel’s G-major Piano Concerto, by contrast with his dramatic and saturnine Left-Hand Concerto, is essentially entertainment music, and it entertained mightily in a fleet-fingered performance by soloist Simon Trpčeski. The young Macedonian’s pleasantly relaxed platform manner was matched by his musical acumen. Appropriately brilliant in the almost circussy outer movements, he phrased sensitively in the central Adagio assai, where Stefan Farkas also contributed a caressing english horn solo.

Before intermission, Trpčeski had also offered the U.S. premiere of a short piece by his compatriot Damir Imeri. The 51-year-old composer’s Fantasy on Two Folk Tunes proved to modestly charming listening. In terms of thematic material and formal design, it does not amount to much more than “one thing after another,” with the frequent intervention of stop-and-go pauses, and there is something of an emotional disconnect between its cavorting solo part and orchestral writing of a frequently darker hue. But the pianist obviously enjoyed playing the piece as much as the audience, to judge from an enthusiastic ovation, enjoyed listening to it.

Sheer entertainment prevailed also at the end of the program. In Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Seth Krimsky and the bassoon section he leads joined in the general orchestral fun with evident relish. A firmer judgment of Susanna Mälkki’s interpretative gifts should perhaps wait until she has the opportunity to be heard in some of the classical Austro-German symphonic repertoire. In this fairly undemanding program, however, she did everything that was required of her very convincingly well—and her direction of the Dutilleux certainly suggested the possession of a strong and well-balanced musical instinct.

Bernard Jacobson