MTT conducts Berlioz
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Jonathan Vinocour, viola
Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture
Berlioz: Les Nuits d'été
Berlioz: Harold in Italy
Wed, Jun 23, 2010 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall
I was drawn to this week's SF Symphony concert by the chance to hear Jonathan Vinocour, the much talked-of new principal violist. The all-Berlioz program also looked attractive. I think Berlioz is a pretty strange composer, but MTT made it all sound bright & lively, if a bit uninflected. I felt like I was sitting through an efficient run-through of the program. Sasha Cooke, in a shimmery, pale green dress, gave a pretty performance of the songs Les Nuits d'été with her buttery voice. I especially liked her floating high notes with their crisp attacks. In the song Absence, she did nice crescendos & diminuendos on those high notes that really did make me think of a flower opening & closing. She acted out the 2 voices of L′île inconnue with discretion.
Jonathan Vinocour had a chair to sit in for the stretches of Harold in Italy in which he does not play, emphasizing that the piece is not a viola concerto. The harp was moved to the front of the orchestra so it could accompany him in the 1st movement. Mr. Vinocour looks like an affable & studious undergraduate, & I was amused to read in his bio that he has a degree in chemistry from Princeton. His playing is clean & smooth & has an easiness to it. The viola's opening theme flowed seamlessly, & the endlessly repeating arpeggios of the 2nd movement sounded airy & even. The harmonic that ends the 3rd movement was perfectly solid. At the end of his performance, the viola section very sweetly presented Mr. Vinocour with a bouquet of flowers.
During the 1st movement of Harold in Italy, it looked like a violinist had to the leave the stage unexpectedly, though several more players left the stage later to form the off-stage string ensemble in the final movement.