United States Dvořák, Varèse, and Debussy: Efe Baltacigil (cello), Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot (conductor), Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 27.3.2014 (BJ)
Dvořák: Cello Concerto in B minor
Debussy: La Mer
Along with Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Strauss’s Don Quixote, Dvořák’s great B-minor concerto poses the most taxing challenge in the orchestral repertoire for a cello soloist. Faced with that challenge in this Benaroya Hall concert, Turkish-born Efe Baltacigil, the Seattle Symphony’s principal cellist since autumn 2011, showed himself to be as emphatically equal to it as any big-name soloist you could hope to hear.
Partnered expertly by the orchestra under Ludovic Morlot’s solicitous baton, with fine contributions from concertmaster Alexander Velinzon and principal clarinet Christopher Sereque and suitably gutsy horn solos from Jeffrey Fair, Baltacigil played with an awe-inspiring combination of gorgeous tone and technical wizardry. His phrasing, too, was eloquent, and his command of dynamic contrasts almost unfailing. (I say “almost” only because I thought he could have made more of the moment in the first-movement recapitulation when the second subject moves down from forte to pianissimo.) It was as compelling a performance of the work I can remember hearing these many years, and Baltacigil responded to a standing ovation of unusual fervor with an equally beautiful performance of the Allemande from Bach’s Sixth Cello Suite by way of encore.
After intermission it was the turn of two works by French composers, though Varèse’s Déserts was written long after the composer had moved to the United States. (Though I never met him, I did derive a certain frisson of excitement from living on the same New York street in 1965.) Completed in 1954, this particular work is scored without strings. The woodwind and brass sections of the orchestra, together with a sizeable contingent of staff and guest percussionists under Michael Werner’s leadership, etched its often abrasive lines—or, more accurately, attacks—with thrilling unanimity and commitment.
In his introductory remarks, Morlot rather charmingly remarked that what he likes about Varèse’s music is that a lot of people don’t like it. There is, perhaps, no logic in the piece, but in as assured a performance as this, the sheer exuberance of the sonic imagination carries an audience with it.
Debussy is a composer too often treated by conductors with what might be called kid gloves. Happily, Morlot was having none of that. Positively massive yet never coarse in sonority, his performance of La Mer brought the evening to a stirring close. At the work’s premiere, alluding mischievously to the first movement’s title, “From dawn to midday on the sea,” Satie remarked to Debussy, “My dear friend, there’s a particular bit between half-past ten and a quarter to eleven that I found terrific!” No such distinctions needed to be made on this occasion—it was all terrific.