University of Washington Goes from Wagner and Berg to Ravel

United StatesUnited States  Wagner, Berg, and Ravel: Elisa Barston (violin), Participants in UW Opera Workshop (Thomas Harper, director), University of Washington Symphony Orchestra, Jonathan Pasternack (conductor), Meany Hall, Seattle, 30.4.2012 (BJ)

Almost exactly a year ago, Elisa Barston, the Seattle Symphony’s principal second violin, played Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto beautifully with the University of Washington’s symphony orchestra. This time she brought her familiar silvery tone, along with a more than sufficient dramatic heft, to Berg’s Violin Concerto, and fashioned a cogently expressive performance, once again with sensitive support from Jonathan Pasternack.

After a somewhat tentative-sounding account of the Good Friday Spell from Wagner’s Parsifal, the orchestra was in fine fettle for the rest of a stimulating if oddly programmed concert. Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortilèges, with its shimmering delicacy and Gallic wit, seemed a curious bedfellow for the near-Expressionistic intensity of the Berg work and the more straightforwardly sanctimonious romanticism of the Wagner.

Still, with a succession of finely focused sounds proceeding from the ranks of the University Symphony, the concert performance that followed intermission provided pleasant entertainment and some genuinely touching moments. Despite the absence of sets and costumes, the 15 or so singers taking part used gesture and facial expression to good effect in portraying the varied characters sketched in Colette’s libretto, Kenneth Enlow and Annalisee Brasil in particular giving a slinkily feline account of themselves in Ravel’s insinuating duet for two cats.

I have to say that, in many cases, vocal production was unequal to the challenge of cutting through Ravel’s magical orchestral fabric, even though Pasternack was careful to keep volume down to a sensible level. The outstanding voice, I thought, was the bass (or bass-baritone) of Isaiah Lin, who doubled as the Armchair and as an impressively resonant Tree. But in the title role Nina Alden, if a shade less authoritative of voice, used her strong stage personality and acting skills to make a very convincing and even sympathetic character of the sometimes infuriating Child.

Bernard Jacobson