Saturday, March 11, 2006

Matthias Sings Strauss

Last Thursday, March 2nd I got ticket to hear Matthias Goerne at the SF Symphony. I was thinking about getting a ticket when I got an e-mail from goldstar events with this concert listed, so it was clearly not selling well. I sat in one of the center sections of the 1st tier for $37, which is not too bad.

In fact, the concert was not well attended at all. The hall seemed barely 2/3 full. There were only 6 of us in my row, including a young, professional looking couple who were fidgety the whole evening.

The conductor was Ingo Metzmacher, who I think I have heard before. Program opened with a new piece: Verwandlung (2003) by Rihm. I haven't heard of this composer before. The piece was kind of what I was expecting for something modern. It starts very softfly, with just a few ghostly pitches, then gradually adds more instruments & builds to a climax including all the percussion, then winds down to silence again. There was nothing surprising about it, & it didn't leave any particular impression on me. With new pieces, I think it's really hard to tell if the conductor is doing a good job or not. The audience gave Metzmacher a good response, though, even bringing him back for a second bow. My sense is that they were impressed by the pianissimos he conducted at the beginning & end of the piece.

Then Goerne came out for 7 Strauss songs, none of which I knew. But it didn't matter, because Goerne totally sold me on them. His sound is very beautiful, sustained & warm & his singing very controlled. Some of the songs had solos for Barantschik, so I got a chance to hear more of him. I haven't made up my mind about him yet, though. I always think he looks more like a truck driver than a violinist, but he does a very solid job.

In the Strauss, I started to get annoyed by Metzmacher. He doesn't balance the orchestra at all, & he wasn't keeping the orchestra down enough to support the singer, so Goerne sometimes got covered. Wind & brass solos sometimes just popped out. This contrasted with Gardiner, who did an exemplary job of supporting voices in his concert not nearly as strong as Goerne's.

The program ended with Brahm's Piano Quartet No. 1 in g, transcribed for orchestra by Schoenberg. It turns out to be a colorful if kitschy piece of music. By this point I thought that Metzmacher was barely managing to do a decent job of traffic management. Entrances were not uniform & solos were not balanced. He didn't seem to be doing anything to shape the music.

The last movement of the Quartet is a kind of hungarian rhapsody, with a raucous orchestration of runs & splashy climaxes. The conductor got a big ovation out of the audience by plowing through this loud & fast & so ending the concert with a bang.

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