Longing for Panufnik, and Other Love Stories

United StatesUnited States  Fauré, Mozart, Szymanowski, and Bizet: Cédric Tiberghien (piano), Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot (conductor), Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 14.2.2013 (BJ)

In both of the main works on this program, the young French pianist Cédric Tiberghien provided welcome balm to the ears after the incoherent solo playing Schumann’s Piano Concerto had undergone a week earlier.

Starting with Ludovic Morlot’s sensitive account of Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, this evening began by presenting me with a curious aural experience. I usually sit on house left, often in one of the boxes on the level above the main floor. This time I was on the right, in a correspondingly positioned box, so you would expect that the sound would be the same, but actually it took me about 20 minutes to get my ears properly attuned to the quite unfamiliar sonority and balance I was receiving from the stage.

The difference may well have been due to my changed angle with regard to the various orchestral sections, but it even affected the first few minutes of Tiberghien’s playing after the opening orchestral ritornello of Mozart’s C-major Concerto, K. 467. Gradually, however, everything came into focus, and by the end of the concerto the soloist had established his stature as a gifted pianist and a stylish Mozartean.

Perhaps even more impressive was his contribution after intermission to Szymanowski’s Symphony No. 4, or Symphonie concertante, which features a solo piano part of formidable proportions. Blending skillfully with the assured playing of the orchestra, Tiberghien made very clear the gulf that lies between the classical style of Mozart and the late-romantic language Szymanowski was still speaking in 1932. Most striking of all, in the slow movement, was the warmly lambent tone he drew from the upper reaches of the keyboard.

It was surprising to reflect that this music came from the pen of a composer born in the same year—1882—as Stravinsky. Its expressive mode is sensual (which Stravinsky almost never is) and rhetorical (again, something of a rarity in the Russian’s music), and these characteristics are carried at times to the point of blatancy. Nevertheless, this cogently paced and sonically cultured performance left me with more respect for the work than my previous encounters with it had evoked. (Now we need Maestro Morlot to demonstrate his penchant for Polish music further by programming some music by the late Andrzej Panufnik, often overshadowed in the public perception by Lutosławski and Penderecki, but in my judgement a far greater composer.)

The concert ended with a suite the conductor had compiled from Bizet’s Carmen. The movements were Prélude, La garde montante, Séguédille, Danse bohême, Intermezzo, Aragonaise, and Les toréadors. Here, under Morlot’s obviously committed leadership, the orchestra clearly enjoyed itself, playing the luxurious passages with suitable passion, and the dashing ones with infectious swagger—or, to use the inimitable Italian word, slancio. It made an appropriately festive ending to a program somewhat factitiously billed, with an implicit nod to its Valentine’s Day date, under the title “Love Stories.”

Bernard Jacobson