Friday, February 1, 2019

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Each year since he retired as SFS music director in 1995, Herbert Blomstedt has returned to guest-conduct two weeks of the canonic heavy classics (mostly German or Nordic) that he specializes in. This year he's 91, and his stint was cut down to one week. He shuffled a little getting over to the podium, but was all-in once the music started.

His repertoire was the two great early 19C Germanic landscape symphonies, Beethoven's Pastorale and Mendelssohn's Scottish. The Pastorale, which for the most part is the most relaxed and calm of all canonic symphonies, responded well to Blomstedt's formal and smooth approach. It was crisp and incisive.

But when we turned from Viennese meadows and streams to Mendelssohn's Scottish hills and seas, it wasn't the same. The Scottish responds well to a wild and wooly interpretation; Blomstedt neatened it up. The music alternated from the somnolent to the hasty. It was probably a valid interpretation, and the playing was certainly good, but I didn't find it as satisfying.


  1. Does the Italian count? The Rhenish is mid-century, but the Italian and Scottish wrre composed within a few years of other.

  2. The Italian and Rhenish evoke specific places, but they don't depict landscapes the way the Pastorale (which names no locales; we just know where Beethoven went) and the Scottish do.