Saturday, February 25, 2012

SFCO: Goldberg Variations

San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, 02.24.2012 Audience waiting to enter Herbst Theatre for performance by San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.When the doors opened at Herbst Theatre for this concert by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the line passed across the lobby twice & down a side hallway. The concert had only one work, Bach's Goldberg Variations, in a string version by Dmitry Sitkovetsky, but conductor Benjamin Simon began the program with a 25 minute lecture/demonstration using the 18 musicians on stage. We heard samples of several variations & got a thorough deconstruction of the Canone alla Seconda. Maestro Simon asked the audience to count off the variations' 8 bar phrases & to sing the bass line. Following the talk, the house lights came up, & there was a 4 minute pause while Maestro Simon remained on stage with the musicians. Some audience members left, resulting in several people returning to their seats after the music had started.

Sitkovetsky's clever orchestration often uses the section leaders as a concertino of soloists. The Aria starts intimately with just a quartet of principals. Many variations feature solos, duets & trios, & Sitkovetsky preserves the virtuosic character of the original. Maestro Simon's tempos were moderate & had a light sway. Many variations ended with a feeling of lift-off. Concert master Robin Sharp played her many solos with a sweet tone & smooth bow speed changes. Principal 2nd violin Debra Fong had a complementary darker, mellower sound. Bass player Michel Taddei was reassuringly grounded & secure. The overall performance was even, though violin intonation was sometimes ragged.

In his talk, Maestro Simon had explained that the 70 minute piece would be performed without intermission & requested no applause until the end. The audience was indeed quiet & attentive, & they gave the concert a happy standing ovation.

§ 2011–2012 Main Stage Concert #3:
Benjamin Simon, conductor
Johann Sebastian Bach: Goldberg Variations (arr. Dmitry Sitkovetsky)
Feb. 24 • Fri. 8:00pm • San Francisco
Herbst Theatre

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