Always ahead of the crowd, the San Francisco Symphony tonight had the
very best of classy summer pops, 48 hours before the vernal equinox.
Nicola Luisotti made his SFS debut (in a mysteriously half empty Davies
Hall) with sublime performances of Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta," and
Bloch's "Schelomo" - the former graced by Carey Bell's soaring clarinet,
the latter led by Michael Grebanier's soulful cello - and then came
something completely unexpected.
After intermission, out of the blue came a deeply disappointing
Brahms Fourth Symphony. Being among the most fervent Luisotti fans,
it surprised and hurt me to witness this amplified, elephantine,
Respighiesque, Gergievian Brahms - thick and loud and bombastic and...
(let me collect myself)... *unmusical*. So sad.
Until now, I have accepted, even embraced Luisotti's extremely physical
conducting because it has always seemed unforced, natural. When seen
against the din of the Brahms symphony, suddenly those large gestures
appeared merely theatrical. So sad again.
But the first half of the concert was truly wonderful. No Hungarian
orchestra in my memory has done better with the Kodaly than SFS under
Luisotti's properly "operatic" and sweeping baton. The music was
sparkling, alive, authentic - and Bell's solo work more than deserving
of all the "bravi."
Grebanier's playing of the Bloch got more substance and depth out of the
work than the composer provided. Even the big orchestral climaxes were
fine, played so well in the Luisotti-SFS partnership.
There was another surprise at the concert, something I am not certain
about, but strongly suspect. Unlike the love pouring forth for Luisotti
from the Opera orchestra and audiences, Symphony players seem much less
taken by him. Body language and a great deal of smiles-and-smirks spoke
counter to Luisotti's enthusiastic acknowledgment of the orchestra. As
I said, I am not sure about the psychology involved here, but perhaps
the musicians heard the same Brahms I did.
There is a good chance the Brahms was under-rehearsed, so perhaps it
will pick up during the next three performances. I certainly hope so.
Regardless, the first half of the concert is not to be missed.
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