Thursday, October 09, 2014

Steven Isserlis, Boccherini, and Haydn

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra had their 1st concert of the season Wednesday night at SFJAZZ. The symmetrical program featured cellist Steven Isserlis in concertos by Boccherini & C.P.E. Bach, bookended by 2 Haydn symphonies. Mr. Isserlis's playing was wonderfully fluid & had a lightness & grace that fit the repertoire well. I liked the semi-detatched articulation he displayed in the 1st movement of the Bach, & the slow movement of the Boccherini had sweetness & a feeling of intimacy. Mr. Isserlis plays with great freedom & is fun to watch. His right wrist is so relaxed that it looks boneless, & he flops his left hand in the air when there are no notes to finger. His mop of long curly hair is impressive.

The printed program had the order of the concertos in reverse, so when Mr. Isserlis returned after intermission, he announced that we were "the victims of a ghastly hoax" & explained that he had already played the Bach & would be playing the Boccherini next. He also made some charming remarks about the composers & slipped in a joke at the violists' expense. After the concertos, he gave us a short, cartoony encore that alternated plucked notes, strumming & bowed chords.

Conductor Nicholas McGegan led jolly versions of the Haydn symphonies. He made much of passages that contrasted loud & soft playing, & his musical rests were palpable. His hands swayed balletically in the slow movement of No. 57. A violinist's string popped during the rustic 3rd movement, forcing the player to leave the stage. Symphony No. 67 had many novelties, including the strings playing col legno & a duet for the 1st & 2nd principal violins that used a strange tuning. The orchestra's intonation was sometimes rough.

SFJAZZ is designed for electronically enhanced performances, & the opening Haydn symphony suffered from painfully dry acoustics. In the 2nd half of the show, though, the sound was smoother & more filled-in. The audience was engaged & occasionally applauded between movements. It was surprising to spot Maestro McGegan chatting with patrons in the lobby just minutes before the start of the concert. My concert companion was offended by a patron across the aisle from us who wore flip-flops.

§ Steven Isserlis, Boccherini, and Haydn
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Steven Isserlis, violoncello

HAYDN: Symphony No. 57 in D major
C.P.E. BACH: Concerto for Violoncello in A major, Wq 172
BOCCHERINI: Concerto for Violoncello No. 7 in G major, G. 480
HAYDN: Symphony No. 67 in F major

Cello Encore: Kabalevsky "Dance"

Wed, Oct 8 @ 8:00PM
SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco

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