GSM-Medical-Alarm-System-A10.jpg
The unexpected guest soloist at Thursday's concert.
Seattle Symphony

Benaroya Hall, Thursday

Additional performance 8 p.m. Saturday.

Ludovic Morlot, in his first season as the

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Seattle Symphony: No Cause for Alarm

GSM-Medical-Alarm-System-A10.jpg
The unexpected guest soloist at Thursday's concert.
Seattle Symphony

Benaroya Hall, Thursday

Additional performance 8 p.m. Saturday.

Ludovic Morlot, in his first season as the Seattle Symphony's music director, has made just one obvious change in the orchestra's sound: The cellos now sit across from, not next to, the first violins. But after hearing Thursday's performance of Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust, I'll tentatively suggest that there's also been at least one change in the actual way the musicians play, not just in where their sound originates from. Specifically: The violins now seem to play with a slightly leaner, more focused, more penetrating sound than they did during the Gerard Schwarz era.

Those of you who have heard the SSO this season, what do you think? There were moments in the performance when the first violins' tone had a brilliance and vividness I can't recall ever hearing from them. Because of this leanness, the winds shone through a little more, I also noticed, and not only in solo work--they also seemed to contribute more to the overall sound when the whole orchestra plays (possibly also a function of no longer having a curtain of cello sound in front of them). There was one truly startling passage, the end of the "Dance of the Sylphs," when the tiniest sprinkles of sound--wisps of string mist, harp notes like the popping of golden bubbles--came through with an astounding delicacy and softness and, at the same time, presence and clarity.

If you're wondering about those sylphs, Berlioz's evening-length work for two choruses, soloists, and orchestra plays fast and loose with the Faust legend, picking his favorite episodes from Goethe's version and adding anything else he felt like. Barely coherent as a narrative, Berlioz's cobbled libretto nonetheless got drenched with some of his most imaginative and picturesque music, which means some of the most imaginative and picturesque music ever written. Performance highlights were the long, expert solos by violist Susan Gulkis Assadi and Stefan Farkas on English horn; soprano Ruxandra Donose's affectingly melancholy delivery of the aria "D'amour l'ardente flamme"; and baritone David Wilson-Johnson as Méphistophélès, who attacks the role and the score with flamboyant relish, as if it were a banquet of his favorite dishes--including a huge platter of ham.

Just as Faust (tenor Richard Leech) and Marguerite (Donose) were beginning their love duet, an odd electronic chirping--a cross between a cricket and the transporter from Star Trek--started up from somewhere in the hall. Everyone gamely finished Act 3, but then Morlot had to leave the podium to investigate. The performance was held up about 10 minutes until it stopped; I later heard from one of the backstage crew that it had been a medical-alert alarm that had gone off in someone's purse. One drawback of Benaroya Hall's fine acoustics: Sound is dispersed so expertly around the hall by all that faceted paneling that it was nearly impossible to tell where the sound was coming from--even for the woman sitting right on top of the beeping purse.

*****

SEATTLE SYMPHONY Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., 215-4747, seattlesymphony.org. $17-$110. 8 p.m. Sat., June 23.

 
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