Thursday, February 13, 2014

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

This was the most conventionally-programmed orchestra concert I've been to for a while: one overture, one concerto, and one symphony, all well-known pieces by different composers from a time spread over the standard-repertoire period.

Guest conductor Jaap van Zweden, a Dutch native who's music director in Dallas (which made him the guy on the spot who had to determine the Dallas Symphony's response to the assassination anniversary last fall), led a Tchaikovsky Fourth that zoomed along at top speed without letting up one whit on power. The finale in particular was an amazing thing: the most powerful whams I've ever heard from an orchestra not electronically augmented for the purpose, at a whiz of speed with each note perfectly articulated, for this is, after all, the San Francisco Symphony determined to do its best.

That was the fast parts. The slow parts were almost equally languid. Extremes were at work here. Manic-depressive might be the word. I'd like to hear what van Zweden could do with the finale of Shostakovich's Fifth.

The same could be heard, in miniature, in Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio Overture.

However, none of that did Sibelius's Violin Concerto any good. Despite some dedicated sawing from the soloist, Simone Lamsma (also Dutch, although her so-called bio in the program book was determined to make you hunt for this basic datum), it wafted along without shape or determination, even in the supposedly lively finale. It was as if the orchestra was hiding behind the soloist, and the soloist, though eloquent enough on her own behalf, was disinclined to lead anybody anywhere.

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