Thursday, March 26, 2015

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

If they're playing Bruckner, you'd better like Bruckner. Wednesday's concert was his Eighth Symphony - his longest at nearly 90 minutes, twice the length of a normal long symphony - and nothing else, not even an intermission.

If this were a full review, I'd have to discuss how the conductor, James Feddeck, was a late replacement for the great Semyon Bychkov, who's recovering from surgery. Not many people around here knew anything about Feddeck, a touring journeyman whose only steady job has been as an assistant at Cleveland. But I did, because I heard him conduct the Phoenix Symphony when I was there in January. More on that RSN, I promise.

I'd also have to go into the problem of the complex versions and editions of Bruckner's symphonies, of which the Eighth has the most intractable tangle. But I'm a heretic among Brucknerians, as I don't think it matters much which edition you listen to.

The sound in this performance was unendingly magnificent, and the energy was always up. Big awesome stuff. The scherzo, the loudest and most energetic movement, was beyond powerful: it was primal.

The problem was the absence of what a great Brucknerian conductor would bring: a sure hold on the flow and shaping of the music. Feddeck didn't have that. He meandered without perceptible aim. I have never felt so lost inside the structure of a Bruckner symphony. Where are we? Where is this going? These are not questions I'm used to asking myself during Bruckner, and I'm sure that with Bychkov I wouldn't have to.

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