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
After 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.