Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

11.08.08
Christopher Seaman
Maestro Seaman energizes Finnish fare

During Christopher Seaman's first years with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, I harbored lingering doubts about this ultracivilized maestro's ability to handle heart-twisting Late Romantic fare.

The time has come for me to confess the error of my ways. Thursday night, he and his musicians turned in a towering rendition of Sibelius' Symphony No. 2. The program repeats at 8 tonight.

Overexposure has worn smooth its rugged (and genuinely strange) features. Seaman reminded listeners what this 1902 classic really is: a cauldron of primal energies. Perched on a simple tripod of three rising notes, it boils over with alternately turbulent, pastoral and doleful moods.

Seaman controlled its convulsive outbursts with near-surgical precision, knowing exactly when to apply the heat and the ice. The Andante's swelling brass volleys and kettledrum tremors were electrifying. The RPO winds' piquant piping offset the strings' frenetic bustle in the third movement.

Seaman ushered in the grandiose finale with power and inevitability. Throughout, he elicited a robust balance between the gutsy-sounding violins and deep brass.

Popular guest soloist Jon Nakamatsu took the stage for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21. But it was one of those rare occasions where the encore stole the spotlight. As a tribute to RPO patron Alfred L. Davis, Nakamatsu played Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor. His astonishing range of touch and uninhibited songfulness brought the audience to its feet.

This Van Cliburn Competition winner shines in Liszt, Chopin and Rachmaninoff — which raised questions whether he'd also bring a Romantic approach to Mozart. Certainly, the "Elvira Madigan" concerto encourages such expectations. It got its nickname from a soggy Swedish meatball of a movie portraying a doomed love affair between a Scandinavian tightrope walker and a dashing cavalry officer.

For the most part, Nakamatsu opted for a tastefully restrained dynamic and emotional framework. His fleet-fingered runs and light, clipped phrasing sometimes sounded matter-of-fact. But his delicately shaded cantabile lines in the Andante and playful way with Busoni's quirky cadenzas won the day.

The program opened with Sir Michael Tippett's Suite in D for the Birthday of Prince Charles (1948). It blended folk tunes, elegant craftsmanship and jovial patriotism in a jaunty style somewhere between Elgar and neoclassical Stravinsky.