Friday, June 22, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

SFS is finishing up its season with a series of flashily-promoted concerts. I didn't go hear Susanna Mälkki, even though she's an outstanding conductor, because I didn't care for the repertoire. I didn't go to the semi-staged Boris Godunov. I'm not going to next week's finale, Mahler's Third (oh no, not again).

Instead, I went to this week's more quietly promoted program, MTT conducting two enigmatic Sibelius symphonies and one popular Rachmaninoff piano concerto.

Let me just say, that Sibelius Sixth was a transcendently great performance. It was lucid, compelling, and flowing. Too often when I hear the Sixth (as if it were anything other than rare), I wonder what the point of the work is or even if it has one. Not this time: I was constantly reminded of why, at its best, I love this music. It's a small piece of quiet lyricism, more like the Third than any other Sibelius symphony.

The Seventh is a very different-sounding piece and a harder nut, one I'm not sure I follow entirely, although it was played just as well. Unlike other good performances of the Seventh (easier to come by than good ones of the Sixth), this didn't feel sectional, but narrative, as if the joins were events rather than gateways. That flowing quality is what it had in common with this Sixth.

This was perfect enough that I thought of leaving at intermission, because nothing could surpass it, but I like Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto, so I decided to stick around. It was, I'm afraid, anti-climactic. Not that Daniil Trifonov isn't an excellent pianist: his playing was gentle, clear, and luminous (I'm trying to avoid the word "shining" in connection with this concerto), a good idea in this often plainly-marked work, and he kept it up even when the composer is directing the playing of clotted greeps. But the structure of the work didn't hold up: often it seemed wandering or superfluous. After Sibelius's severe order, this was indulgent, and needlessly so, because there isn't a major Rachmaninoff work that can't be tight and compelling. But that would have required a level of blistering energy that would have been out of place here.

Another thing I missed, by the way, was the annual Garden of Memory concert, which was the same day. I would have had to leave less than two hours into the four hour event in order to get over to SF in time, and fighting so much East Bay traffic to get there in the first place for so little reward didn't seem worthwhile.

Ironically, it was largely with the intent of being in town for Garden of Memory that I preferred to visit OSF two weeks ago instead of this week. Had I chosen otherwise, I could have stayed longer in Oxford ... and probably came down with the crud that all my housemates who stayed on got. And I would also have missed both June concerts, instead of just one, of the Redwood Symphony which I'm determined to attend and review this weekend.

And I would also have missed that sublime Sibelius, and though I'd not have known how great it'd be, that would have been a real loss.

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