Friday, February 9, 2018

two concerts

1. Zephyros Winds, Stanford. The members of this woodwind quintet hail from a variety of countries, but none are from Hungary, which is where most of their music came from. They played a variety of pieces by György Ligeti. If you remember his music from the movie 2001, you won't be surprised that some of this was so piercing that audience members actually plugged their ears with their hands, something I'd never seen at a classical concert before.

On the other end of the modern spectrum came a quintet by an obscurer Hungarian composer named Endre Szervánszky, who turned out when I looked him up to be one of the Righteous Gentiles. He also wrote a charming rustic scherzo.

2. San Francisco Symphony, Davies. First week of the annual two-week visit by music director emeritus Herbert Blomstedt. Blomstedt usually brings along a hefty pack of the serious Austro-German repertoire, plus some Nordic music usually by Sibelius or Nielsen. This year's Nordic entry wasn't by Sibelius but it might as well have been. It was the Second Symphony by Wilhelm Stenhammar. Stenhammar actually withdrew his First Symphony in embarrassment when he heard some Sibelius and realized how much like Sibelius his own work sounded. If he'd heard this performance of his Second he'd have withdrawn that too. I have recordings of this work with passages that do not sound like Sibelius; such passages were absent from this performance. It sounded like slightly watered Sibelius all the way through, except for a few passages in the finale that sounded more like Bruckner (another Blomstedt specialty).

Not that I'm complaining, exactly. It got respectful applause, but not as hot as did the other work on the program, Beethoven's last and greatest piano concerto, the Emperor. It was a toasty warm performance, with the piano keys under the feathery touch of Garrick Ohlsson. So fine was he that his encore, the Adagio cantabile from Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata, was enthrallingly perfect.

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