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Originally published January 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 4, 2008 at 1:48 PM

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Seattle Symphony: Ushering in 2008 gloriously

The past month has not been an easy one for Gerard Schwarz. First the Seattle Symphony music director broke his leg and his ankle in a skiing...

Seattle Times music critic

Repeat performances

Seattle Symphony Orchestra, with Gerard Schwarz conducting, and Stewart Goodyear, piano soloist; 7 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday; also at 2 p.m. Sunday in a "Musically Speaking" program that includes commentary, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $17-$125 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).

The past month has not been an easy one for Gerard Schwarz.

First the Seattle Symphony music director broke his leg and his ankle in a skiing accident, and underwent surgical repair of the ankle. Then came a mammoth, negative story in The New York Times, raking up a couple of years' worth of Seattle Symphony controversy and blaming the maestro. Finally, the past weekend presented a concert schedule that would tax the healthiest of conductors: four successive performances of the mighty Beethoven's Ninth.

You'd think that the current set of subscription concerts, featuring Beethoven's Fifth, might find an exhausted conductor and a cranky orchestra. Instead, Thursday's performance was an exciting affair, with the musicians playing hard, well and attentively for a conductor who didn't seem to have his energy diminished at all by the trip to the podium on crutches and the awkward business of conducting from a stool. A near-capacity audience showed up for the concert and cheered the performance with every evidence of enjoyment.

The program, which opened with Johann Strauss Jr.'s "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" Waltzes, had plenty of Viennese lilt and sway, though the woodwind punctuation of the opening melody was decidedly uncoordinated. (The winds made up for it, though, in a spectacularly lovely passage in the Beethoven's "Andante con moto" movement.)

The young pianist Stewart Goodyear turned in a clear, solid performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor (K.466). It wasn't the usual young guy's flash-and-dash traversal of the Mozart but instead was a surprisingly sober account that was a model of clarity.

No matter how often one has heard Beethoven's Fifth, it's great to hear a performance of this energy and urgency. There was nothing perfunctory, nothing business-as-usual, about this reading, which brought forth the intensity and grandeur of this classic. What a way to usher in 2008.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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