And the Nielsen did not disappoint: every time I hear something by the Danish composer, I find myself amazed that he isn't played a whole lot more often in the US. His music is lively, quirky, direct, tremendously energetic, and enormously appealing. The Clarinet Concerto is an offbeat work written for a clarinetist who was evidently quite the eccentric. Perhaps the oddest thing about the concerto is the prominent solo part for snare drum; the score doesn't call for timpani, and the snare drum acts as a foil to the often lyrical, but equally often flighty, clarinet part. It's a wonderful piece and got a terrific performance all around.
BUT. The big surprise on the program was Schubert's Great C Major Symphony, D. 944. I had quite seriously told Joshua Kosman before the concert that I was considering taking off after the Nielsen, on the grounds that, well, the Schubert is looooong and I am not a big fan of it.
Boy, am I ever glad I stayed. It turns out that the reason I haven't cared much for the piece is that I'd never heard Herbert Blomstedt conduct it. It is a gigantic piece, huge in scope and length and number of themes; it can be ponderous and hoo boy can it drag.
But Blomstedt neatly sidestepped every one of the inherent pitfalls, conducting the work with energy and momentum from the very first theme, which was noticeably faster than I have heard it before.
The performance was, indeed, long, clocking in around 50 to 55 minutes, because Blomstedt took the first and fourth movement repeats, but (except for a bit in the scherzo - how many repeats are there, anyway??) it was an entirely gripping and absorbing performance. In fact, it seemed shorter than MTT's 2009 performance, in which he omitted the first and last movement repeats.
Blomstedt used a large string section, and yet there was no muddying of textures: instead, there was the most marvelous transparency, with a beautiful rich string sound in which you could still hear every inner voice and detail of the string orchestration. He had the first violins on the left, seconds on the right, basses and cellos next to the firsts on the left. I've been saying for several years that Davies sounds betters with the strings in this formation, and this concert provides a little more backup for that claim.
I was also hugely impressed with Blomsted's control of the architecture and dynamics of the piece; in fact, he made the dynamics an obvious factor in the architecture and line.
Really, I've never heard a better performance of the Great C Major, and I expect it will be a long time before I hear one that's as good. I have grown more and more impressed with Blomstedt over time, and I hope - given that he is now 86 - that I will have many more opportunities to hear him.
- SF Mike at Civic Center
- Kalimac (I am also annoyed by the "Great Synphony" business.)
- Joshua Kosman in the Chron