San Francisco Symphony
Fri, Apr 10, 2009 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall
Stéphane Denève, conductor
Piotr Anderszewski, piano
Jennifer Higdon: blue cathedral
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24
Fauré: Pelléas et Mélisande
Debussy (arr. Jarrell): Ibéria from Images pour orchestre
I came specifically to hear the Higdon & the Mozart Concerto & didn't really pay attention to what was on the rest of the program until I sat down. It's a bit of a peculiar line-up, the Higdon, Fauré & Debussy being picturesque & very much about orchestral colors, while the Mozart, an exemplar of classical form & proportion, is something of an interloper.
blue cathedral uses a large orchestra & begins with quietly tinkling bells, to which strings are eventually added. There are serene & melodic solos for flute, clarinet, English horn, violin, & a quartet of violas & cellos. The piece pleasantly put me in mind of soaring through an endless blue sky. It could be the soundtrack for the flying scene in an animated movie. It has a wonderfully atmospheric ending in which the orchestra gradually fade away to uncover 2 ethereal sounds: crystal glasses played with moistened fingers by the brasses, & the jangling of Chinese reflex balls.
Anderszewski is an intense & focused performer with a big mop of hair that falls over his forehead. I liked his pellucid playing, every note individually clear, even when very quiet. His phrasing in the 1st movement had a lot of variety & detail, & he played an unusual, heavy-sounding cadenza that was probably not Mozart's. I got the feeling that he is a moody player, though he smiled often. I don't know if it was because of my seat on the 1st tier side, but for some reason the 1st bassoon stuck out frequently during the concerto.
We were back to dreamy movie music for the rest of the program. Tim Day was a wonderful flute soloist in the Fauré, & Jonathan Fischer (I think), played beautiful, pure-toned oboe solos in the Debussy. Even though Debussy, according to the program notes, only ever visited Spain once on a day trip, Ibéria seems to evoke feelings of Spain better than actual Spanish music (thanks, Entartete Musik).
Stéphane Denève made me think of a young James Levine, with his big head of frizzy hair & good eye contact & involvement with the orchestra. On the other hand, I felt like he didn't always quite connect with the Symphony on this particular evening.