Monday, November 14, 2011

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

A somewhat more cheerful time was had back on Friday at Davies in the City. I'd already been planning to attend that evening's concert on my own when I got the call to be fill-in reviewer. That meant I could save the price of a ticket and take a friend, and it also meant I had to write up my thoughts, which - a bit unusually for me - I drafted immediately on getting home. Fortunately, too, since unexpectedly I spent all of Saturday otherwise occupied. Here's the published result.

I'm particularly pleased with the simile I used to describe the presence of Schubert's Overture to Alfonso und Estrella, which didn't quite fit with the rest of the program, despite being by the same composer as the rest. I spared the review's readership the complicated story from the program notes, which I don't quite understand, to the effect that this overture is actually also the overture to the incidental music to Rosamunde, despite the fact that the piece that is always identified as the Rosamunde Overture is something entirely different and apparently has nothing to do with Rosamunde at all. I have two recordings which claim to be of the Rosamunde Overture, and they're both of the other one. To say that that famous, graceful, and tuneful piece is MUCH BETTER than the pompous little squib we heard on Friday is to underestimate the difference between them.

Well, that was a curiosity. What really brought me to this concert was not to hear the "Trout" Quintet in the vast, chamber-unfriendly confines of Davies, but the string orchestra transcription of the "Death and the Maiden" Quartet. (Never mind that the transcription is by Mahler. Mahler didn't compose it; he only tinkered with the line disposition. Schubert composed it.) One of my shameful secrets is that the original recording of this arrangement, made soon after some scholars dug it up in 1984, is what I learned the Quartet from. Only afterwards did I pick up a recording of the original version (by the Alban Berg Quartet) and learn that. Rather as Steeleye Span was the hinge that turned me from a folk music fan into someone capable of appreciating the virtues, such as they are, of rock music, Mahler's edition of "Death and the Maiden" was one of the hinges that turned me from an almost exclusively orchestral music listener into a more serious connoisseur of chamber music. It's an evolution many classical music listeners go through as they age, though each one's journey must be unique. I still also listen to orchestras, of course, and unlike Barshai's orchestral Shostakovich quartets - which just don't work for me, because the originals are so intimate - Schubert's big, bold quartet fits well in orchestral guise, even handled as gently as in this performance. The comparison to Tchaikovsky's Serenade is one that hadn't occurred to me before.

No comments:

Post a Comment