Saturday, November 08, 2008

Blomstedt Conducts Brahms & Nielsen

Fri, Nov 7, 2008 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

San Francisco Symphony
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor
Nikolaj Znaider, violin
Katherine Whyte, soprano
Eugene Chan, baritone

Brahms - Violin Concerto
Nielsen - Symphony No. 3, Sinfonia espansiva

I went to this concert mainly to see Blomstedt, who is now over 80. I was very happy to see that he looks healthy & moves freely on the podium. This is a great program for him, playing to his strengths in the late Romantic repertoire.

Blomstedt had a reduced string section for the Brahms, with only 2 stands of cellos & 4 double basses. This resulted in a thin but exceptionally clear orchestral texture. A friend of mine describes Blomstedt's sound as "attenuated".

Znaider is a technical monster. He has a strong, focused sound, & he rips through chords & parallel octaves with ease. I liked watching the rapid left-hand shifts he did in the cadenza. He's a flashy performer. The orchestra liked his playing too & gave him their own bow-waving ovation.

I'm not a Nielsen fan, but Blomstedt can make the hodge-podge of Nielsen's musical ideas flow together for me. The driving, accelerating chords of the opening of the Symphony No. 3 reminded me of the opening of John Adam's Harmonielehre. This gives way to something more lushly Romantic. Later in the movement a bouncy dance theme emerges. Blomstedt moved effortlessly & naturally between these disparate elements.

I didn't hear the soprano in the 2nd movement very well at all, though this may have been a problem with my position in the hall.

In the end, I thought William Bennett was the real star of the evening. He played gorgeous solos in the Brahms & the Nielsen, even summoning up a different oboe sound for each composer. During the final ovations, Blomstedt walked into the woodwind section to single Bennett out for a special bow.

During the evening I got to chat with some members of the San Francisco Classical Music and Opera Meetup. These people know their opinions, so be careful what you say about Mahler!

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