Sunday, November 25, 2007

Slatkin Leads SF Symphony

Haydn: Symphony No. 67 in F Major (1779)
Barber: Piano Concerto, Opus 38 (1962)
Elgar: Enigma Variations, Opus 36 (1899)

Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, piano

I heard this concert on Friday, as part of my non-shopping Black Friday. This was a really solid evening. Every piece made its point. The Haydn was elegant & witty. The first movement showed off the precision of the string section. Haydn's trick of ending the 2nd movement col legno got a laugh. The 3rd movement has an amusing trio that is played by just the concert master & principal 2nd violinist in a country dance style. After this trio, Slatkin stepped down from the podium & paid a few dollars to each soloist. The 2nd violinist even had a cup ready for the tip! But even without this schtick, I was left with the recognition that this is a great piece & that we all need to hear more Haydn Symphonies.

Garrick Ohlsson produced a large, fluid sound for the virtuoso Barber Concerto. In the 1st & 3rd movement the soloist has to produce flurries of notes, & his playing was always clear & flowing. He seems to be a very efficient player too, dispatching what must be very difficult writing with apparent ease. At one point I thought I saw him do a hand crossing by passing one hand under the other! The 2nd movement is one of those lyrical, suspended stetches of music. This is the composer of the famous Adagio for Strings, after all.

After intermission, we got a solid reading of the Enigma Variations. Everything was in place. Fine solos from the orchestra & exemplary leading from the podium. Slatkin was always comfortably ahead of the orchestra. Often he would give a cue, then step back & let the orchestra play, providing hints rather than trying to direct everything.

My only complaint is with a few members of the audience. I was sitting in the back of the orchestra section. Nearby was a father with his 2 young sons, around 10 years old. One of them, understandable bored, fidgeted constantly, pulled his sweater on & off, found imaginative ways to drape himself over his armrest & otherwise was pretty distracting. Immediately after the Barber they got up & left, & figured they were going home, but they returned for the second half. As the lights went down, I moved several rows down, so I missed the 2nd half of the little boy's performance. However, I ended across the aisle from someone who really needed a tissue but instead spent the whole of the Elgar sniffling.

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