Stephen Hough and the Rach 3: a leap-out-of-your seat experience
A review of the heart-pounding Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, delivered by Stephen Hough and Seattle Symphony Orchestra on June 14, 2012. Also on the program: Bernstein and Ives.
Special to The Seattle Times
Seattle Symphony OrchestraLudovic Morlot conducting, and Stephen Hough, piano; noon Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $17-$125 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).
Seldom do you hear such an explosion of absolute joy at the end of a Seattle Symphony concert. On Thursday evening, the usually decorous audience leapt out of their seats for a shouting, hooting, whistling ovation the moment piano soloist Stephen Hough and the orchestra struck the final chords of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3.
What a performance! The Rachmaninoff is one of the biggest and most demanding of the piano concertos, and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser if the soloist has the necessary technique. In the hands of someone like Hough, the Third is practically an incendiary device, lighting up the hall with gasp-inducing cadenzas that emerge with such brilliance and speed that you wonder afterward, "Did I really hear that?"
The opening passages of the concerto were taken at such a clip that conductor Ludovic Morlot and the orchestra were hard-pressed to keep up. Hough surged into the score with dazzling fingerwork of almost impossible clarity and accuracy, backing off in the more lyrical passages and then accelerating like a Formula One racer. But it wasn't merely fast and loud; Hough also illuminated the inner voices of the music, and got a tonal palette out of the piano that was extraordinary in its variety. At some points in the third movement, you'd swear those glittering passages were coming from a celeste.
As the concerto progressed and Hough pressed the tempo ever forward, Morlot and the orchestra were running for their lives. Fortunately everybody reached the music's crucial signposts at about the same time, and the results were breathtaking. Let's hope the Symphony administrators have Hough's management on speed-dial; we just heard more than 2,000 fervent votes for a re-engagement.
The program opened with a festive account of Bernstein's "Candide" Overture, followed by Morlot's sincere attempt to illuminate the pallid charms of Ives' pastiche-ridden Symphony No. 2. The latter performance was memorable mainly for the meltingly lovely cello solos of Efe Baltacigil. It took years for the SSO to find a new principal cellist; Baltacigil is worth the wait.
Thursday's concert was preceded by a heartwarming salute to three players who are leaving the orchestra: cellist Susan Williams, and violinists Virginia Hunt Luce and Jun Liang Du. They will be missed.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.