By Philippa Kiraly, Special to The Sybaritic Singer
Angelique Poteat was 33 and an established composer when she wrote her Cello Concerto this year, commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and given its premiere Thursday night at Benaroya Hall. it sounds young these days to have reached this level but Benjamin Britten, whose Four Sea Interludes from his iconic opera Peter Grimes was also performed, was the same age when he composed them. And Rachmaninov was also 33 when he wrote his Symphony No.2, Op.27 which concluded the program.
Britten was deeply influenced by the sea close by where he lived and he evoked it unmistakably in this music. In the Seattle Symphony performance under guest conductor James Feddick one heard the waves, their swells, breaking and receding, the choppiness, the wild storm and tension, the lulls and ferocious build up again and, over it, particularly in the first Interlude, you heard the seagulls. This was an admirably pictorial performance.
The orchestra’s principal cellist, Efe Baltacigil, took the solo role in Poteat’s 22-minute concerto. In it, she contrasted the aggressive destruction of artistic artifacts and creation going on in the Middle East today, depicted by the orchestra, with continuing, irrepressible artistic expression depicted by the solo cello.
The cello has the very first notes, almost immediately joined by the orchestra, and only occasionally stops playing throughout the work, which has four movements played without a pause. Poteat has given the cello a largely lyrical role, mostly tonal and often in the instrument’s highest range. Baltacigil, a Turk from that region of the world himself, played with a gorgeous singing tone, passion and nuance, with the notes sometimes slithering down, while the orchestra at times sounded disturbingly martial. Only at one moment was the cello overcome by orchestra sound.
Feddick did a masterly job of keeping the balance. Poteat effectively used a variety of instrumental colors, occasionally using only a very few instruments, such as harp, marimba, solo violin or viola, different winds. Unlike most concertos, where a cadenza is heralded by a full stop by the orchestra, here the orchestra and cello morphed into it. Like all cadenzas, it demonstrated the abilities of the performer as well as furthering the music’s purpose, and Baltacigil played it superbly, from introspective quiet to fast and furious leaps all over his cello, slides and double stops and with high harmonic sounds growing every softer, at which point muted winds joined in very quietly. The whole drama continued as the cello played oblivious of somber orchestra undercurrents. There was more, continuing to the end of this important addition to the cello literature. Poteat came on stage to accept plaudits from both orchestra and audience.
The concert ended with Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.2, Op.27. It’s a long, expansive, romantic work to which Feddick and the orchestra gave all its lush sonorities but without ever overdoing it. Kudos particularly to principal clarinet, Benjamin Lulich for the beautifully shaped long solo at the beginning of the third movement. It made for an overlong concert, but a satisfying one.
Philippa Kiraly has been writing classical music criticism since 1980, for several newspapers in northern Ohio and Seattle, magazines, both local and national, and blogs. She is passionate about the importance of independent criticism for the fine arts, an art in itself which is dying with little interest by many publications and no longer a viable career for most. But writing for tickets is always worthwhile!
Pippa is a keen gardener, a keen grandparent, and can get lost in a good book.