Friday, October 23, 2009

Vänskä Leads SFS

San Francisco Symphony
Thu, Oct 22, 2009 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Osmo Vänskä, conductor
Antti Siirala, piano

John Adams, Slonimsky's Earbox
Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto No. 1
Dvořák, Symphony No. 7

I've enjoyed Osmo Vänskä's conducting before, so I was looking forward to this concert. I did not feel disappointed. John Adam's Slonimsky's Earbox is a loud, frenetic ride using the full resources of the orchestra. It begins with a rapid upward run that is a kind of leitmotif. Vänskä made sure that the orchestra kept up a tense level of energy. Mr. Adams himself was in attendance in box A for the entire evening & took a bow on stage after his piece. This was also my 1st chance to hear new principal viola Jonathan Vinocour, who has a prominent & frantic solo to play.

I'm not sure what to make of Antti Siirala, a replacement for Yundi Li in the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. He certainly put in an exceptionally clean performance. I liked his efficient technique & the clarity of his line, even when playing extremely fast. His face remained curiously expressionless the whole time. I did not find him thrilling, & yet his playing was not uninteresting either. The rest of the audience had no doubts about him, though. They applauded after the 1st movement & gave him a standing ovation at the conclusion.

Vänskä is an intense conductor who cues everything. Sometimes one can even hear him grunting. I wonder if this doesn't actually annoy orchestras, but he seems to get results. We got a large-gestured & slightly manic Dvořák 7, with exciting, full climaxes. I especially liked the dance-like 3rd movement, which was a bit edgy & sinister. There were many excellent woodwind solos all evening. I loved the beautiful sounds produced by Timothy Day (flute) & William Bennett (oboe).

Vänskä sticks around next week for an equally splashy program of Sibelius & Beethoven.


Immanuel Gilen said...

It seems Tchaikovsky's 1st PC, like the Mendelssohn VC, get standing ovations by nature - the music compels the audience (me included) to do so regardless of the soloist's performance. What happened to Yundi Li though?

I miss William Bennett's playing, is that weird?

Axel Feldheim said...

I suppose you are right that these concertos are real applause machines. Perhaps it's not worth mentioning that people actually really do get excited. I did find it a little surprising in this case, though, because Siirala gave such an emotionally cool performance.

I don't know why Yundi Li had to be replaced. He's a rather undemonstrative performer as well, so perhaps his substitute was not an inappropriate choice.

I love William Bennett's playing, so I do not think it weird that you should miss it.

Gavin Plumley said...

Vänska's Sibelius 2 that I heard with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester IN Leipzig in April 2008 was the greatest thing I have ever heard live.

Axel Feldheim said...

Wow. A definitive judgment indeed. The 1st time I saw Vänskä he led Sibelius 1, & it was quite exciting, so I can well believe that your Gewandhaus concert was extraordinary. I find Vänskä to be a thrilling & intense conductor. In my original post I neglected to mention his lush support in the Tchaikovsky Concerto. We are very lucky to have him here for 2 weeks. I hope to get into his Sibelius/Beethoven program next week.