Saturday, April 27, 2013
Wagner & Dvorak at San Francisco Symphony
It's a double-header of Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach this week at Davis; tonight is the last of three programs of Wagner excerpts and the New World Symphony, tomorrow it's Schubert's Winterreise. I attended the symphony concert last night and came away with what you might call mixed feelings: dissatisfaction with Eschenbach over a few issues, and love for Goerne co-existing with mild frustration.
Let's start with the length of the first half of the program. Okay, the two excerpts are nice bleeding chunks, but man, Die Frist ist um is an odd way to open a concert, creeping on stage as it does. Why not fatten up the program by starting with the overture to The Flying Dutchman? Rehearsal time issues? Um, maybe. I can't think of when I last heard so many messy brass entries as last night, and from a brass section that has been sounding unbelievably great for the last couple of years.
Goerne sang with his characteristic virtues: a gorgeous voice and an unerring line, deep intelligence combined with raw passion. I really could listen to him singing the telephone book; I'm sure he would project each individual's life story effortlessly based only on their name and address.
He could be the greatest Wotan ever, but only under highly controlled circumstances: if he has the stamina, in a small house with a conductor willing to keep the orchestra's volume under control. In the giant barn that is Davies, he really didn't have a chance. His low notes disappeared - this happened in last year's stunning Mahler / Shostakovich recital as well - and Eschenbach gloried rather too much in the SFS brass, so that Goerne's voice disappeared in the racket at some critical moments. It's pretty impressive to hear an orchestra of this quality cutting loose in Wagner, but you have to wonder how much opera Eschenbach conducts, considering that he did a pretty poor job of supporting the singer.
And you'd also have to wonder how much Wagner he conducts. I do not know Dutchman well, so no comments on the tempos in Die Frist ist um, but jeez, the tempos of the last 2/3 of Wotan's Farewell seemed slow almost to the point of dragginess. Well, presumably they were at least partly Goerne's idea, and they did not cause him trouble. It's not as though the tempo caused any of the balance problems.
Eschenbach's New World performance, lacking a soloist, didn't have the kinds of balance problems the two Wagner excerpts had. I think I have never heard it live, and what a beauty, though a discursive beauty, it is. Still, I left vaguely dissatisfied: the brass issues continued, making the gorgeous chords at the opening of the slow movement less than mysteriously beautiful; some tempos were off (slow movement could've been slower, scherzo could have been quicker and more savage, etc.), and there were a couple of times when you knew, really knew, that Eschenbach is German, not Bohemian. Why the performance got a standing O is beyond me, other than that the loud parts were really, really loud.
UPDATE: Joshua Kosman and I were at the same concert, though he was there Thursday. He's blunter about Eschenbach's failings, too. He reminds me to say: Russ deLuna, you are a marvel. I hope to hear you play the Tristan solo some day.