Thursday, February 19, 2009

Masur conducts Bruckner

San Francisco Symphony
Wed, Feb 18, 2009 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Kurt Masur, conductor

Sofia Gubaidulina
The Light of the End

Symphony No. 4, Romantic

I came curious to see Masur. I remember being impressed by his appearances with the SF Symphony perhaps 20 years ago. He has aged much since then. Compared to the big physical gestures he used to make, his movement is now limited & clunky, & has hands display a tremor. He conducted the entire evening without a baton.

The audience turn-out for this evening was noticeably sparse. A few favorite principals in the Symphony also seemed to be out this week. Nadya Tichman covered for Barantschik, & William Bennet & Stephen Paulson were absent.

The initial schedule announced the Gubaidulina piece as a new work commissioned by the SF Symphony, but instead we got a 2003 piece that was commissioned for BSO. It's a tone poem that runs perhaps 25 minutes & requires a huge orchestra with lots of woodwinds, brass & percussion. It features a recurring wave gesture that sweeps through the strings & that reminded me of the ocean. Other sections sounded transparent & airy, including a high cello solo, nicely nailed by Grebanier. There was a section in the middle that started with a line in the tuba being taken up by the horns. It was as if the prelude to The Ring was having a hard time taking off. The work ends in silence, & it got a polite but tepid response from the audience. Ms. Gubaidulina appeared on stage to take bows along with the orchestra.

Mr. Masur led the Bruckner without a score. His interpretation was restrained & deliberate. Even in the climaxes, he never let the orchestra simply blast out, so even though the piece is very brass-heavy, I always heard the strings. Tempos were on the leisurely side, never pushing. The performance had good dynamic range. Unfortunately, the scoring of this work really exposed the Symphony's brass section, which was often weak. Still, I enjoyed exploring Bruckner's rustic & organic landscape for an hour. There aren't many experiences in modern life where one is asked to be still for an hour to focus on just one thing.

The audience reception for the Bruckner was cool as well, though a clump of people in the row in front of me did decide to give it a standing ovation. During the intermission, I was hanging out in the lobby with some fellow bloggers, & we were approached by a writer for San Francisco Classical Voice, soliciting our opinion of the Gubaidulina piece. He got our honest reactions, but perhaps I should have just told him he could read all about it online soon enough!

P.S. The SF Classical Voice critic has spoken here. My concert companions & I were not among those quoted with positive comments about the Gubaidulina. I admit that I was completely unaware of the underlying concept of conflicting temperaments. I do agree with the critic about the lovely playing of the viola section in the Bruckner.

No comments: