Once in awhile I'll attend a concert, thoroughly enjoy it, and find that I have little to say about it beyond "yeah, that was really good (or great, or [even] wonderful)." I'm not alone here- Patrick and I have discussed this at length, and thankfully it doesn't happen to me very often. However,  I felt this way about what will end up being the last performance I'll have attended this year- an excellent chamber music concert featuring Yefim Bronfman and ten members of the San Francisco Symphony.

I don't regularly attend these concerts because it feels unnatural to me to sit in a theater or auditorium in the middle of the afternoon, unless it's raining or something. And when it's raining, and I'm looking for something to do indoors, I typically think about going to the movies, because the chamber music series isn't regularly scheduled for every Sunday afternoon. One must pay attention, or make arrangements in advance. I know I miss out on a lot of good stuff with this attitude, including the longstanding Saturday morning performances of the Alexander String Quartet and SF Opera's Tosca and Rigoletto this year, but it has to be someone or something I really want to hear to make me want to take that seat on a Sunday afternoon. Something rare, or something special. That was the case a couple of weeks ago for this particular concert because of Bronfman's presence- I've mentioned before he's my favorite pianist- and I was all the more intrigued to hear him because the Emperor he'd performed a couple of nights before with the orchestra wasn't bad but it certainly wasn't a highlight of the season, or even of that particular concert.

That Sunday I arrived at the hall late, barely making it into my seat on time, on what turned out to be an unexpectedly nice day, because I had been arguing with a horrid and dreadful woman, which was to be expected because it seems she and I can't not argue on a Sunday morning. Some people go to church. We go at each other. Thankfully that weekend seemed to be the last of the Sunday morning arguments (as of this writing). But I've digressed. Walking into the hall, I was pleased to see the orchestra section nearly full, and a couple of familiar faces in the audience, one of whom went on to provide a much more detailed account of the music than what you're going to get here.

The first selection of the afternoon was John Harbison's Twilight Music- a trio for horn, violin and piano. Maybe it's just because I'm paying more attention in light of the local performance earlier this year of his opera The Great Gatsby, but it seems to me we've seen Harbison on a lot more programs than usual this year, which is all to the good. Twilight Music, written in 1984, has four movements. In the program notes for the piece Harbison is quoted from a few years earlier talking about intervallic this and that, which makes sense if you want to listen music that way, but I usually don't (click here to listen to the piece performed by the Chicago Chamber Musicians in 1993). But two elements really drew me into the piece: first, Harbison's writing for the piano here is pretty much straight ahead jazz, and it was fascinating to hear Marc Shapiro weave this element seamlessly into a classically dressed costume; the second point of interest was Nicole Cash and her horn.

Cash joined the orchestra in 2009 as associate principal after a few years with the Dallas Symphony. She always piques my interest when I see her onstage (she's a very attractive woman) but I had yet to hear her solo for an any extended period of time. She drew a range of sounds from her instrument I didn't even know were possible, and between her wonderful playing and Shapiro's excellent jazz performance, poor Dan Carlson on the violin seemed almost like an afterthought in the mix, as I found myself paying little attention to that part. At the end of the fourth movement's Adagio a two note motive faded away to create one of the most gorgeous conclusions I've heard all year.

Next came the trio of Yukiko Kurakata on violin, Sebastien Gingras on cello, and Katie Kadarauch on viola to perform Ernst von Dohnányi’s Serenade in C major. The entire five movement work was charming, but I was especially impressed with the Romanza, which reminded me of a late Beethoven quartet, possibly Op. 130, and the exuberant Rondo of the finale. I have to admit to also being distracted by Kadarauch, who was a stunning figure onstage in her red chiffon, halter-top gown.

Both of these performances were satisfying to the extreme, but the main event followed the intermission when Bronfman strode onstage with Nadya Tichman, Dan Smiley, Jonathan Vinocour, and Amos Yang to perform Brahms' Piano Quintet in F Minor. Bronfman blended seamlessly into the group of the orchestra's top tier musicians, neither dominating nor holding back in anyway, but rather through his own forceful performance engaged the other players and the entire ensemble gave an indelible performance, completely erasing the mediocre taste left by the Emperor a few nights before.