Wednesday, November 03, 2010

SFS: Alice Sara Ott plays Liszt

Davies HallOn Saturday evening I was at my first SF Symphony concert of the season. The program began with Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave Overture, which conductor Pablo Heras-Casado led from memory & without a baton. Pianist Alice Sara Ott sounded more perky than virtuosic in the Liszt Piano Concert No. 1. She was sensitive to her overall context, more in the manner of a chamber musician than a concerto soloist. She received an immediately standing ovation & played a pretty version of Für Elise as an encore. The delighted audience applauded as soon as they recognized the first notes.

With the stage set for György Kurtág's Grabstein für Stephan, it looked like some horrible event had decimated the orchestra. The strings were represented by 3 violas, 3 cellos & a bass grouped at the right edge of the stage. There was a full complement of percussion & brass, but only 1 oboe & 2 clarinets. The piece starts with the open strings of a guitar, then gradually builds to a piercing climax that adds a police whistle to the mix. It then drifts back down to the strumming guitar & closes with a single, very quiet note from the horn, so that the piece does not feel quite symmetrical. Despite the odd instrumentation, it did not seem like a competition between timbres. Maestro Heras-Casado held up the score when he took his bow. Since the piece was relatively short & very compressed, I almost wished that there were time to hear it again.

The program ended with a lot of musicians on stage for the Shostakovich 12. I liked bassoonist Stephen Paulson's incisive & pointed playing in the 1st movement & his plaintive solo in the 2nd. I also like the other soft & long-lined flute & clarinet solos in the slow movement. The final 2 movements were loud & shrill. The performance met with great approval. Many in the audience stood & cheered.

§ Alice Sara Ott plays Liszt
San Francisco Symphony
Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor
Alice Sara Ott, piano

Mendelssohn: Fingal's Cave Overture
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1
György Kurtág: Grabstein für Stephan
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 12, The Year 1917

Sat, Oct 30, 2010 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall


sfmike said...

Decimated, as I'm sure you're well aware, means one-tenth gone. The Kurtag arrangement looked more like a plane crash had taken everyone from the orchestra except for a few extra musicians who didn't go on the disastrous tour.

Axel Feldheim said...

Of course you are correct about the literal meaning of "decimate", but in this case I am comfortable with the less exact usage (thought I'm less tolerant of using "enormity" to mean "large in size", so I have some scruples.). Perhaps I could have said that the orchestra's membership looked devastated. Even so, my language would still be far less colorful than yours.