Fontane di Roma (Fellini-style)

The first time I heard Vasily Petrenko conduct the San Francisco Symphony in the spring of 2010 during his debut with the orchestra, my response was immediate, enthusiastic, and looking back, a tad ridiculous, especially since I thought his return engagement a year and a half later fell short of the promise of that initial encounter. Perhaps his third visit would be the one to really tell the tale, and I was pleased to see his name on this year's roster of guest conductors, until I saw he was to perform Ottorino Respighi's Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome- works I encountered in Music Appreciation 101, but didn't.

However, the scheduling of Bartok's 3rd Piano Concerto, with soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, whom I knew nothing about, and my determination to see if my initial fanboy first impression was a fluke put the concert on my list. It turns out I wrote nothing to regret.

Respighi's Rome pieces are full of almost comical bombast, but under Petrenko's hands they were also a blast. The band came to play, especially the brass section, with the entire orchestra creating a richly blended sound I've never heard from them under any other conductor. Nor had I noticed the strains of Gotterdammerung winding their way through the Pines, nor the trombones that are so reminiscent of Fasolt and Fafner's music in Rheingold. Of course this is likely due to my knowing virtually nothing about Wagner when I first encountered Respighi. I had also forgotten how long the nightingale sings during the piece's last section and having absorbed a lot more music since my first exposure to it, I have to admit how influential the works have been in world of film scores.  Hearing these works again was like a re-education and the hands of a master. When it was over, and the audience stood on its feet whooping and hollering in total delight, and I was right there with them. I don't think I've ever seen the audience at Davies respond to a performance as vociferously as they did on this night.

Bavouzet did justice to the most prickly of Bartok's concertos, but didn't put much of his own stamp on it. The concert began with Arvo Part's Fratres, an interesting exercise at best.