Sunday, November 1, 2015

a week's concerts

Concert no. 1: Winchester Orchestra. San Jose-based community orchestra I hadn't been to before. I'd put them pretty high, at the second rank, in that category. The program for this one attracted me, including as it did two highly differing masterpieces from 1924, Sibelius' Symphony No. 7 and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The Sibelius was a challenge and not a work the orchestra really had a grasp on, but the performance sounded much more like Sibelius than it didn't, so points for that. They fully got into Rhapsody in Blue, however, giving real individual personality to the solo parts for clarinet and trumpet. A nicely-matched pair of pavanes by Fauré and his student Ravel were marred only by Ravel's choice of French horn to play the smooth opening, a passage that a non-pro hornist can get through only by sheer luck. The Danse macabre by Saint-Saëns became an oddity: the concertmaster who played the solo violin part was fully up to the job, but the rest of the orchestra couldn't keep up with him at that speed and kept dragging the tempo back while he kept pushing it forward. The conductor sided with the concertmaster and wasn't giving anybody else any help. Sounded like a car that couldn't decide what gear it's in.

Concert no. 2: Palo Alto Philharmonic. Another community orchestra, not as good as the Winchester, and they play in a tiny hall about the right size for a piano recital. As a result, Schumann's Rhenish Symphony sounded totally crude and blatty, even though the execution and interpretation were decent. The original problems with the orchestration may have been Schumann's fault, but the conductor should have known to have adjusted for this. My friend who used to be a cellist with this orchestra has left, so I may just stop going very often.

Concert no. 3: Dalí Quartet. I was sent to review this one. True, this quartet isn't quite up to the highest standards in Mozart - glaringly so, because the clarinetist they were playing with was up to it - but, like the Winchesters playing Gershwin, do they ever sizzle at the stuff they're made for, which is South American dance music. With allowances for personnel changes at first violin, here they are in two pieces, which I hope you will enjoy. First, Efraín Amaya's Angelica, the piece I liked so much:

And here's their wild tango encore:

Recognize that tune, do you? So did I - it is, among other things, the tango that Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon dance to in Some Like It Hot - but how could I identify it for my review? I had no idea what it was called or indeed that it had a name at all. Figuring that it's the first tune you'd think of when you think of tango, I tried googling "default tango" and got articles on Argentine economics with tango metaphors in their titles. "Standard tango" didn't help either. "Famous tango", that did it.

Concert no. 4: San Francisco Symphony. Arrived at this so late that I plopped into my seat without grabbing a program. But even without remembering what was on, I guessed the first piece before it started because I recognized what some of the players were warming up with: Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé. The late Michael Steinberg's program notes say "Comments about the film are vague and contradictory," suggesting he never saw it, even though it still exists. Gidon Kremer played Bartók's other violin concerto, the one written in his youth in infatuation with a female violinist who didn't love him back - according to the program notes, she was a Catholic who was revolted when he preached atheism at her. And lastly, Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3, "the finest" of his four suites according to the notes, but its bloat and repetition don't win it many points from me. No. 1 is the finest. Andrey Boreyko conducted the lot.

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