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Seen and Heard International Concert Review

 


Copland, Schoenfield, and Beethoven : Lawrence Renes, cond., Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola, Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 04.06.2006 (BJ)


Thirteen years ago, I heard the young Dutch conductor Lawrence Renes lead a concert in The Hague with the Residentie Orkest (also known as the Hague Philharmonic) as his final examination at the city’s conservatory. The program included the taxing Tenth Symphony of Shostakovich. To put it mildly, he passed the test, fashioning a highly dramatic and expertly controlled reading. Even so, I hardly realized then what a major talent was in the making. Returning to the Seattle Symphony for a second engagement, Renes offered a program ranging from Copland’s Rodeo and Paul Schoenfield’s Viola Concerto back to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and the results were thrilling.

This was apparently the first time Renes had conducted Rodeo, but you would not have guessed it from the winning combination of zest, precision, and wit he brought to the outer movements, offset by a performance of the Corral Nocturne that was bewitching in its tranquil beauty. The idiosyncratic rhythms of American music sometimes defeat even the most experienced European conductors, but Renes–who already has an all-Gershwin CD to his credit–clearly has the idiom in his bones. He was no less authoritative in partnering a superb solo performance by the orchestra’s principal violist, Susan Gulkis Assadi, of the Viola Concerto by the 58-year-old American composer Paul Schoenfield, who was on hand to acknowledge an appreciative ovation from the audience. The piece has many beautiful moments. But if the point of starting a new movement is to embark on a new range of contrasts, Schoenfield’s first two movements, both eloquently chromatic in idiom, resemble each other too closely in both mood and material, and his fast finale delivered less than it promised, seeming banal by comparison with the much more successful deployment of rapid-fire figures and motoric rhythms that we had just heard in the Copland work.

Certainly there was nothing to complain of in the orchestra’s playing of both first-half compositions. But Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony–indeed, any symphony from the heyday of the Austro-German classical style–provides a conductor with a much severer challenge, and it was here that Renes really proved his worth. For one thing, it was a pleasure to watch a conductor who eschews what Adrian Boult used to call “the Grecian vase effect”: beating clearly with his right hand (sometimes with baton, sometimes without, depending on the nature of the movement in question), Renes used his left hand sparingly to delineate expression or emphasize dynamic points, avoiding the kind of otiose duplication that can be confusing for the players. In response, the orchestra mirrored his gestures with a promptitude and power that seemed equally instinctive. The partnership reminded me of the kind of visible-audible magic that great and under-appreciated Italian conductor Victor de Sabata exerted in an unforgettable performance of the Brahms Third I was lucky enough to witness in London more than 50 years ago.

Altogether Renes’s was as fresh, exciting, and cogent a realization of Beethoven’s Seventh as I can recall hearing, swift and lively without ever shortchanging lyricism. Particular pleasures were the vitality of the prevailing dotted rhythms in the first Allegro, the feathery flighting of the soft fugal episode in the second movement, and the underlining of several big climaxes by the wonderfully stertorous projection of their high-lying parts by the horn section led by John Cerminaro. The conductor’s observation, moreover, of all repeats in the outer movements helped to achieve perfect equilibrium of momentary detail with overall architectural logic. It is good news indeed that Renes will be back with the Seattle Symphony for an unusual two-week guest engagement in the fall.




Bernard Jacobson


 

 

 



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)