Saturday, February 28, 2009

Anne-Sophie Mutter Plays Gubaidulina

San Francisco Symphony
Thu, Feb 26, 2009 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Michael Tilson Thomas

Anne-Sophie Mutter

American Overture, Opus 42

Sofia Gubaidulina
Violin Concerto No. 2, In tempus präsens (US Premiere)

Valses nobles et sentimentals

La Valse

It was a full house this evening for Anne-Sophie & Gubaidulina, quite a contrast with last week's sparse attendance. Prokofiev's American Overture was a substitute for the originally programmed Love for Three Oranges. It requires an unusual assortment of 16 players, including 2 pianos, 2 harps, brass, woodwinds, 2 basses & 1 cello, but no violins. I wonder if this substitution was made to ease the stage management. No violin section was thus required for the 1st half. The piece is bright, noisy & shapeless. It also presents problems of balance. Assistant principal cellist Amos Yang sawed away gamely, but I'm not sure I ever heard him.

The Gubaidulina Concerto also requires no violins but has beefed up brass, woodwind & percussion sections. 2 harps as well! The violin starts the piece & is the center of attention almost continuously. Anne-Sophie Mutter's playing was immaculate & fluid in an obviously technically challenging part. When she had to play high up on a string, which was often, her sound was consistently loud yet smooth. Even her vibrato is expressive. I was frequently startled by the power of Ms. Mutter's up-bow strokes.

I found the Concerto itself to be unrelentingly shrill. Parts reminded me of a buzzing beehive. There is particularly violent section in which the strings play hammer blows, which get fiercer as more instruments join in. I felt tense throughout the entire piece, then cramped & out of balance when it was over.

During the curtain calls, Ms. Mutter acknowledged Ms. Gubaidulina who was seated in box A. Given Ms. Mutter's capabilities, one got the feeling that the composer needed to make no make concessions regarding the performability of the piece. Ms. Mutter also insisted on taking her bows with the orchestra.

Violins were out in large numbers for the 2nd half, & our 2 harpists didn't get to go home yet either. The orchestra was now so huge that the stage looked like it was going to collapse. Valses nobles et sentimentals is a series of short, breezy waltz movements. La Valse became its darker complement, sardonic & grotesque to the point of inviting laughter. MTT swayed, danced & hopped on the podium, sometimes leading, but often traveling along with or even behind the orchestra.

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