The San Francisco Symphony began "Dawn to Twilight: A Schubert/Berg Festival" tonight with a program I found to be only a partial success. Whether you would like it or not will likely depend on how you like your German Romanticism served. I prefer mine to be robust, bloody and well-cooked. Tonight's Schubert's offerings catered more to those who tastes lean toward the more easily swallowed without much effort. That may be fine for an appetizer, but it makes for an unsatisfying main course- especially when paired with a dynamite wine.
Ok- enough of the stupid food analogies. I guess that's what happens when the concert starts an hour earlier than usual and one is forced to have supper post-performance. Please, no more 7:00 PM start times. If anything, start later rather than earlier. Why can't the show start at 9:00? Then everyone would be on time and well-fed. It would be so much more civilized.
Allow me to a digress for a moment, if you please. A few years back I was sitting in the now-departed Vicolo prior to a Symphony concert and I recognized a member of the orchestra eating alone. I mustered the arrogance to tell him I didn't much care for the way MTT had conducted Beethoven's work those past couple of years, especially an Eroica which I had recently attended that I thought had nothing remotely heroic in at all. In my opinion it was a prancing horse and I desired a snorting bull. Much to my surprise, he agreed with me. For the past few years I've avoided MTT conducting Beethoven for that very reason. This season I relented and decided to attend the the September 11th performance of the 9th Symphony and I was floored. It was the most gorgeous and powerful 9th I've ever heard. My faith was renewed and all was immediately forgiven.
So my expectations for the Schubert-side of this festival were pretty high, because MTT was back to giving full-blooded accounts of my favorite genre of classical music. Alas, to my disappointment, he has slipped back, at least for this night, into that lean, bloodless mode I find so discouraging. On the opening Rosamunde Overture that can be forgiven, even expected, but when that same scourge bleeds the life from Unfinished it just leaves me feeling sad. Even the orchestra looked sheepish afterwards, as if they wanted to say to the audience,"We're sorry, we know could have kicked-ass on this, but tonight we just didn't." And fie to the trombones.
Berg on the other hand, was performed with something close to perfection, including the trombones. Go figure.
In the evening's first half Michelle DeYoung turned in an incredible performance of Seven Early Songs that made me immediately want to see her cast across the street and right away. Check my review of LA Opera's Die Walkure back in April to see that she turned in that day's strongest performance against some pretty heavy competition. She's incredibly talented and was the evening's highlight far and away. I'm adding her to my list of must-see performers.
Three Pieces for Orchestra, also performed just this past January, was brilliant (and loud!).This crazy quilt of sound that spools out of a white-hot central core into molten tendrils was thrilling and beautiful, with each section of the orchestra coming through crystal clear while making a cacophonous din. Who knew MTT would use this evening to show off his Modernist cred? At the end, the orchestra looked very pleased with itself and it was justifiable satisfaction.
One thing I've recently learned that this concert validated in both halves: in the entire classical music canon, there may be no one who can compose and ending to a piece as effectively as Berg. We'll get to see the ultimate example of this gift next week in the Violin Concerto, but tonight it was on full display with every one of his works.