Friday, April 30, 2010

SFS: Schumann & Zemlinsky

San Francisco Symphony
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Christine Schäfer, soprano
James Johnson, bass-baritone

Schumann: Symphony No. 4
Zemlinsky: Lyric Symphony

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 2:00pm
Davies Hall

PhotobucketAfter much of the orchestra was on stage prior to this matinee at the SF Symphony, stage hands came out & removed the podium, making it evident that conductor Christoph Eschenbach would be leading the Schumann Symphony No. 4 without a score. The orchestra played out the entire time, & my basic impression of the performance is how loud it was, at least from the front orchestra. I was grateful for the comparatively quieter moments, such as the 2nd movement solos by principal cellist Michael Grebanier & concert master Nadya Tichman. Mr. Eschenbach is a somewhat detatched & strange presence on the podium. I could not see the relationship between his gestures & the music. He connected all the movements, at one point even continuing to beat time during the transition.

For the Zemlinsky Lyric Symphony the orchestra was larger & even louder. The scowling James Johnson, substituting for an ill Matthias Goerne, has a Wagnerian voice & managed to match the huge noise made by the orchestra. His singing is well-modulated & expressive. He even did a nice falsetto at the end of Ich bin friedlos. He sang without a score & demonstrated a strong stage presence. He stood up to begin Befrei' mich von den Banden deiner Süsse with such a sense of menace that he looked like he was about to fight someone. Soprano Christine Schäfer sang strongly & with great expressiveness as well.

I had never heard the Lyric Symphony before, & at times I was reminded of Berg, Korngold & Mahler. The orchestral interludes that connect the songs are especially colorful. I left feeling unbalanced & a bit out of sorts. I don't know whether to blame Zemlinsky's music, Tagore's distressing love poems, or the over-all loudness of the concert.


Stephen Smoliar said...

You certainly made the right connections for Zemlinsky. I actually did a
preview piece
for this concert as a follow-up to a review of a recent recording of the "Lyric Symphony." There is a hyperlink to the CD review in the preview article.

Axel Feldheim said...

Thank you for verifying my associations. I felt a little guilty that I did not study up before the performance & was experiencing this piece for the first time as a very naive listener.

sfmike said...

Oh dear, professor S.S. is pimping his site again, and telling you that you "made the right connections."

Went to the concert tonight, Saturday, and must say that you warned the world correctly and completely about everything, and nothing had changed from Thursday afternoon. Johnson was still scowling, the orchestra was still too loud, and the entire experience of both the Schumann and the Zemlinsky felt like a Germanic mauling of a not very pleasant type. No wonder you were out of sorts afterwards. The only thing you didn't warn me about was that Christoph Eschenbach looks like Doctor Evil, at least when he's dressed in all-black. I almost got the giggles when he first came out.

Axel Feldheim said...

The funny thing is that I was going to say something about Eschenbach's get-up, but I decided that would be just too much fun. The Dr. Evil comparison is more accurate than anything I could think of.

y2k said...

Never thought of Eschenbach as Dr Evil; however, I never warmed up to him when he took over the Philadelphia Orchestra back in the early 2000s.

Axel Feldheim said...

That sfmike is awfully naughty, isn't he? Mr. Eschenbach makes regular appearances with the SF Symphony, & I continue to find him odd. But then, I also have a completely unjustifiable prejudice against pianists-turned-conductors.