Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nicola Luisotti conducts Brahms's Fourth

Nicola Luisotti conducts Brahms's Fourth

Wed, Mar 18, 2009 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

San Francisco Symphony
Nicola Luisotti, conductor
Michael Grebanier, cello

Dances from Galánta


Symphony No. 4

I don't usually like to sit in the side terrace, but for this evening it turned out to be a great place for watching Luisotti's wily podium style. Mr. Luisotti has a big goofy smile, & it was much on display for the Kodály dance suite, encouraging the orchestra to be loose & to have fun with this music. He clownishly conducted with his shoulders or waved his baton as if tracking a fluttering butterfly. He made flirtatious gestures to bring out a solo from the female flutist. People around me in the terrace giggled at times, & I couldn't help doing so either. I felt like it was all genuine & in the right spirit, & it added up to a teasing, playful interpretation. I also have to note that a highlight of the performance was the excellently soft & controlled clarinet solo from Carey Bell.

Luisotti had an appropriately grave demeanor for the Schelomo, but he was no less demonstrative. For the big orchestral climaxes, he would clutch his chest or stretch out his arms. He sometimes looked like he was having a heart attack. I like Mr. Grebanier's stolid & efficient cello sound. He gave a clean & low-key performance that was a contrast with the intense orchestral background. William Bennett added beautifully plaintive solos that almost stole the show.

Mr. Luisotti's Brahms was extroverted & unconstrained. It was interesting to note what he conducted & what he didn't. For instance, in the opening theme, he cued the descending pairs of notes but not the ascending ones. He still had plenty of antics to show the orchestra as well. With his unusual, conversational gestures he actually made the scherzo funny. The final movement was intense & driving. Luisotti kept the audience quiet for several seconds after the end. During the ovations, the brass section seemed confused when he singled them out to stand.

Probably because of the program's 1st half & the lack of name-recognition, the audience was very sparse. I hope more people attend this concert this weekend. I was pleased with Mr. Luisotti's appearance with the opera, & I'm just as encouraged by this outing with the SF Symphony. True, Mr. Luisotti is a bit of a comedian on the podium, & I can see that this might turn off some musicians, but at least he has ideas & gets the orchestra to watch him.

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