Friday, June 25, 2010

MTT conducts Berlioz

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.


y2k said...

The BSO played Harold in Italy earlier this year. I don't have the programme notes anymore, but I recall the departure of players towards the end of the piece was deliberate. Of course, I can't remember the reason now... but I'm 99.9% sure that this was intended by Berlioz; something to do with the "plot" or "story" of that piece. Does your programme notes explaing it?

I do remember that this piece was written for Paganini, but when Berlioz completed it, Paganini refused to accept it nor play it because there isn't enough virtuoso passages for the viola.

Anyway, I find it interesting that the SFS is still performing at end of June. When does the season end, and do the players get the rest of the summer off?

The Boston Symphony Orch's final concerts concluded the first week of May. But they do have to go back to work at Tanglewood for 7 weeks during the summer. The regular season starts beginning of October.

y2k said...

Oh, I found the program notes online (opens in PDF file). It doesn't explain the departure of musicians. Hmm... I must have heard about it during the pre-concert talk then.

Axel Feldheim said...

You are correct that the off-stage string trio is definitely part of the plan! I think it is meant to be a reminiscence of music heard earlier in the piece, perhaps of the pilgrims. I don't know that Harold in Italy has as exact a program as say the Symphonie fantastique, though.

That Paganini story is repeated in the program notes we had for SFS, so it must be true!

I believe that this is the final week of subscription concerts for SFS. Starting July 4th there is a summer season of light classics & pops.