Wednesday, May 27, 2015

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

It's Charles Dutoit again. This is at least the sixth time I've heard him conduct in the last five years.

He led an intriguing program: Jeu de cartes, a chunk of neoclassical Stravinsky that had only previously been heard here when the composer himself conducted it 75 years ago; Elgar's Cello Concerto; and the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures.

The performances were good, mostly (the tuba was not quite up to the solo in Ravel's "Bydlo", but Nicole Cash, the ever-reliable hornist, and bassoonist Stephen Paulson, who's rapidly turning into the new star of the woodwinds, were A-OK), but they weren't tremendously exciting. The Elgar in particular was rather limp, and soloist Gautier Capuçon was quieter than the orchestra.

Scott Foglesong gave the pre-concert talk, and actually discussed all three pieces, a rarity for him: sometimes he doesn't even discuss any of the pieces. He was obsessed with the Elgar being in Aeolian, without explaining what that was for those who didn't know (to be fair, the difference between Aeolian and minor is picky), and his discussion of Pictures consisted mostly of playing the same bit in various different orchestrations, most of which sounded pretty much alike.

Going back a bit, last Friday I wandered over to Bing for the Stanford Wind Ensemble, because they were playing Holst's Suite No. 2, a favorite, and Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy. They also played Hindemith's Symphony for Band, and a band arrangement of Glière's Horn Concerto, twice the length of the typical horn concerto. (Anyone who knows his Ilya Murometz will not be the least surprised.) Typically of Stanford, the soloist, while of professional caliber, wasn't even a music student. He's a postdoc in cancer biology.

The seating being open, I ran another little experiment in the hall's acoustics. I sat for the first half way down in the front corner, and for the second in the top row. Sure enough, the sound really is better in the second place: more balanced and blended, and not at all distant.

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