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Originally published Friday, March 23, 2012 at 9:55 AM

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Classical review

Rare Schubert gems sparkle in hands of Seattle Symphony

Morlot and company skillfully handled six selections from "Rosamunde." When it came to the beloved Brahms Violin Concerto, however, guest soloist Jennifer Koh demonstrated flawless technique but not the soul the piece requires.

Special to The Seattle Times

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

Seattle Symphony Orchestra

Shorter "Rush Hour" concert with Ravel's "La Valse," 7 p.m. Friday, Ludovic Morlot, conducting, $15-$79; full program featuring violinist Jennifer Koh on Brahms' Violin Concerto plus works by Schubert and Janacek continues 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $17-$110 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).
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Concert review |

Anything by Schubert with the name "Rosamunde" brings to mind the familiar 'Entr'acte,' or maybe the equally familiar 'Ballet Music' but, as was displayed at Benaroya Hall Thursday night, there's more to "Rosamunde."

He composed some 10 pieces of incidental music for this unsuccessful play, and in this Seattle Symphony concert, music director Ludovic Morlot conducted six of them.

Three are choruses (these were sung by the Seattle Symphony Chorale), the first for men accompanied by horns and trombones portraying dark spirits, though the music itself isn't particularly portentous, and the pattern of the choruses is more folk-song-like than other Schubert songs. The two familiar sections are here also, plus another ballet. All of it has enough descriptive charm, and the composer's hallmark felicity with melodic ideas, to make a listener curious to see the play for which it was written.

In his tone poem, "Taras Bulba," Janacek is equally descriptive, though in the three movements the subject is death. The music is dramatically colorful rather than gloomy, particularly in how he uses winds, brass, and percussion chimes and cymbal. The walking rhythm in the second movement conjures up trudging prisoners, and the chilling clarinet wail (played by Laura DeLuca) at the end is the torture and death of Bulba's son.

Morlot brought out individual instrumental colors so they were sharply lit, the whole transparent in that one could hear all the parts. In their intensity the violins sounded somewhat screechy at times, but the long oboe solo, beautifully phrased by principal Ben Hausmann, set the stage.

After these, the much-loved Brahms Violin Concerto was disappointing. Soloist Jennifer Koh came with many accolades to her credit, but her style of playing leans to the extremely muscular. Her pitch, rhythm and technique are flawless — there was never a scratchy note — but her performance lacked any sense of soul, and it was hard to watch her because she seemed almost to attack her instrument. While the tone was liquid gold, it also had no softness, which is a real shame in this expressive work. But the audience rose to its feet with cheers afterward.

The highlights of this concert were numerous solos from the winds: from flutist Demarre McGill, bassoonist Seth Krimsky, clarinetists Christopher Sereque and DeLuca, oboist Hausmann and English hornist Stefan Farkas.

Morlot is gone again until June, but his programming, his vision and his conducting make one eager to welcome him back.

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