Friday, December 07, 2007

Berlioz at the SF Symphony

Berlioz Lélio
Berlioz Symphonie fantastique

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Stanford Olsen, tenor 1
Shawn Mathey, tenor 2
Dwayne Croft, baritone
SFS Chorus

Went to this concert Wednesday night, solely for Lélio, which I had never heard before. Even though Berlioz billed this as a sequel to the Symphonie fantastique, it was programmed first, probably because it is a lighter work overall. In fact, it felt more like a collection of 6 separate pieces rather than a large cohesive work. No matter. The individual pieces were each satisfying on their own.

It starts off charmingly with a tenor soloist accompanied only by the piano. We could be in a 19th century salon. Later, the strings come in with the idée fixe from the Symphonie fantastique, making the linkage explicit. It is a sweet-sounding but sinister song about a siren. Stanford Olsen sang this from within the orchestra, standing next to the piano. The tessitura is pretty high, but I think he hit every note.

Varied movements follow: An eerie chorus; a wild brigands' song; another tenor sings from within the orchestra, this time with harp accompaniment; an orchestral interlude; a choral fantasy, minus bass voices, addressing characters from Shakespeare's The Tempest. It's definitely a mashup, but each piece kept my interest.

There was a sense of uncertainty to the proceedings, as if the performers weren't always sure what was going to happen next. At one point the chorus took several moments to reach a consensus as to whether they were going to sit or stand.

The confusion carried out into the intermission. When I emerged from the auditorium, I was sorely disappointed to discover that none of the reserved drink orders, mine included, had been prepared yet. The harried bartender apologized, explaining that he had been told we weren't going to be let out until 9:00. The short first half let out around 8:45.

The performance of the Symphonie fantastique occupying the 2nd half was recorded live as part of the Keeping Score series. Perhaps 10 cameras were stationed around the orchestra. A long boom camera extended from the terrace directly over the orchestra. Most notable were 2 robotic cameras, one on a vertical stand at the back of the orchestra & the other on a track running along the front of the stage. This one could go back & forth & also rise up to the eye level of the musicians.

During the performance there was plenty of distracting movement from all these devices, though it was also kind of cool to watch. It was clear that there were going to be a lot of motion shots in the finished broadcast. It must be especially difficult for the musicians to pretend to ignore the cameras. The robotic camera in front could maneuver itself to within a couple of feet of a musician's head.

Under this scrutiny, the orchestra sounded like a completely different band in the 2nd half. It was obviously well-rehearsed, & everyone knew exactly what was going to happen next. The sound was brilliant & concise. There was a lot of detail. The bassoon solo in the 4th movement really popped out. I was also impressed by the strong flute solos. They captured a clean performance with a lot of surface sheen.

1 comment:

Axel Feldheim said...

I have to say that I agree fully with SFMIKE's assessment of the musical aspects of this performance.