Saturday, March 12, 2011

Two Concerts

So I made it out last weekend to a couple of concerts, San Francisco Symphony and California Bach Society. Yeah, I skipped Other Minds entirely, though I at least half-wish I'd gone there Saturday night instead of the SFS.

The Symphony program was attractive: Hindemith's Concert Music for Strings and Brass, an assortment of Scandinavian and Finnish songs with the lovely Anne-Sofie von Otter, and Brahms's First Serenade.

I'd never heard the Hindemith before, and in fact I'm not sure I've ever heard any Hindemith in concert; he has never been in fashion in my concert-attending life. I played his flute sonata and Eight Short Pieces for Flute, excellent works, long ago. The Concert Music is a large-scale piece, highly contrapuntal, and I can't say much more than that; I did not take notes.

The songs were somewhat problematic. I had a rush seat and was back under the overhang; consequently, von Otter sounded far, far away. It wasn't a matter of the accompaniment overwhelming her; MTT did a fine job of keeping the orchestra colorful but in check. The songs were absolutely lovely and von Otter sang them with love and affection....there was just not much impact way back there. I've had no problems hearing vocal soloists such as Michelle DeYoung or Susan Graham or the Mahler 8 soloists when out in the middle of the orchestra section or in the balcony. (Patrick, whom I saw at intermission and after the concert, was up in the loge, off to the side, and reports that it was like watching a parade go by. This was exactly my impression when I sat there for an Osmo Vanska program a few years back.)

The closing Brahms First Serenade was a marvel; a great piece, well-conducted and played. It's longer than some symphonies and just as ambitious, but less formally rigorous (besides having more movements than yer typical symphony).

Then there was Cal Bach's Tunder and Buxtehude program. The first half - well, the part before intermission - was two motets by Tunder; they were fine, but not especially memorable. The Buxtehude, his Membra Jesu Nostri, took up the second half of the program, but easily 2/3 or 3/4 of the time on the concert - I wish I'd looked at my watch.

Membra Jesu Nostri consists of seven short cantatas, each discussing one of the wounds on the crucified Jesus. I cannot imagine that they were intended for performance in this fashion, as a set. Perhaps they would all have been performed between Good Friday and Easter Sunday at a series of services.

And that is how it should be. The chorus sounded utterly fantastic, with beautiful sound, clean and accurate attacks, superb phrasing, great dynamic control...and yet it was too much of a muchness. The cantatas aren't that different, or, perhaps, music director Paul Flight didn't differentiate them to the extent needed by consecutive performance. I would have especially liked to hear more variety of tempo. Still, the program would have better if only three or four of the cantatas had been performed, much as I understand the attractiveness of a complete performance.

All this aside, I am plugging Cal Bach's next concert well in advance: it's called Johannes Brahms and the German Legacy, and will feature music of Brahms, Schuetz, and Hanssler. It's on April 29 and 30 and May1, and I am sure it will be lovely!


Civic Center said...

You should have gone to the Other Minds concert. They're always a crap shoot, but this year's festival was pretty amazing, and getting to hear Andriessen and his muse(s) in person was a treat.

Lisa Hirsch said...

TOTALLY. Not to mention, Kyle Gann.