Thursday, May 10, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Two French guest performers, both of whom I'd heard before, appeared in a concert of Franco-Italian travelogue music. Stéphane Denève, his wild mane of hair beginning to recede in front, conducted.

The all-French work on the program was the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Camille Saint-Saëns, with the solo by Gautier Capuçon. He had a firm, mellow tone in this mostly lively and fairly choppy work. The unusual feature is a courtly minuet in the middle, played crisply and softly in the strings. Capuçon's encore was also by Saint-Saëns, "The Swan" accompanied by orchestral strings and harp.

There were two somewhat mixed-provenance works on the program. Escales (Ports of Call) by Jacques Ibert is a 1922 suite depicting Mediterranean countries the French composer visited on his honeymoon: Italy, Spain, and Tunisia. The idiom, in orchestration and slightly seasick harmonies, was very much "school of Debussy," though Debussy never wrote anything as exotic as Ibert's Tunisia.

A brief and very recent work by the French composer Guillaume Connesson, also depicting the Italian landscape, bears a long title in Italian translatable as "The river is clear in the valley." It surprised me with its retro quality, being in what seemed a combination of neoromanticism and neoclassicism. Only a few odd harmonies betrayed for certain that it had not been written a century earlier.

Lastly, The Pines of Rome, the most famous of Ottorino Respighi's sets of panels depicting the city. Denève stationed extra brass for the finale around the balconies, resulting in weird echo effects. This was also done for the recent San Jose performance, though I don't recall seeing it earlier. But this was a refined and dignified performance where San Jose's was raucous.

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