Monday, April 03, 2006

Rostropovich leads SF Symphony 2

I went back to the SF Symphony to hear Rostropovich's 2nd Shostakovich program on March 30th. I was in the 1st tier center section again. These concerts have been close to sold-out, but for some reason this section likes me.

The program opened with the 1st Jazz Suite. They had the small ensemble grouped on the left side of the stage, which looked a little odd, since the conductor ended up at an angle to the audience. They got the humor of the piece. The audience even laughed after the 2nd movement & after the Hawaiian guitar solo in the 3rd movement. The ensemble playing was excellent. The scoring might be a little fragmented, so that the performers probably do need to make an effort to sustain a line through each movement. The last movement sounded appropriately vampish. It reflected Rostropovich's preference for heavy, sustained playing.

This was followed by the 2nd Violin Concert with the concert master Alexander Barantschik. I really liked his playing. His bow arm is really smooth. He has an unbroken sound which makes it seem like he has an endless bow. He can do really fast bow speed changes. He had music in front of him, which I usually don't like to see for a concerto. He's not a flashy player, & executes even the technically challenging passages in an undemonstrative way. The orchestra was very supportive & never covered him. The string sections played especially uniformly. It wasn't an emotionally wrought performance, but it was well played & sincerely played & all of a piece with the orchestra. Barantschik got a very warm ovation from the audience & came back for 2 bows & scattered standing ovations.

The 2nd half of the program was the exhausting 13th Symphony. Like in the previous program, Rostropoich did a good job builing up to loud & gritty climaxes. His tempos were very generous, & he did a good job of sustaining the often oppressive mood, but somehow I didn't feel like he was so successful in this large piece. The soloist was a young, tall & lanky bass with a very strong, sustained voice but not much variety in his singing. As usual the chorus did a fine job. Their singing is very uniform & has a lot of variety.

The symphony ends very quietly, & Rostropovich worked hard to create an ending that moved imperceptibly to silence, but someone started applauding during the last chord, so the effect was completely destroyed. I hate when that happens. I felt like we needed to hear the last movement again without the applause, just so we could get the full effect of that final decrescendo.

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