Saturday, December 10, 2011

The BSO Comes to Town

I saw both BSO programs this week, and my review is now posted at SFCV. I liked them a lot, as you can see. Opinions around town were somewhat divided -
  • Joshua Kosman wasn't too happy, though he liked some of the performances. I'll note that the BSO programs were announced before Levine's resignation. As Joshua has noted on his own blog, the BSO was way behind in figuring out that Levine needed to be eased out and a search committee formed, but they knew a year ago what would be performed in SF. He's right that there were some ensemble problems, especially in the first movement of the Mahler, but overall, I was mightily impressed by the playing. More below.
  • SFMike was mightily impressed.
  • John Marcher was too.
  • kalimac is in Joshua's corner.
  • Janos Gereben (no link) was thrilled by the Bartok and Ravel. He told me so, anyway!
About that huge ensemble that Mike mentions. Well, the Wednesday concert was an all-hands-on-deck affair. I noticed on Tuesday that the BSO strings were a whole lot  more present, with a fuller sound, than the SFS strings tend to be. My companion Wednesday evening thought it was a bigger orchestra than SFS. Just for the heck of it, I counted the string sections of each orchestra as listed in the programs. They're essentially the same size. SFS lists three more violins total, but the BSO has two violinists on leave; same number of cellos and violas; Boston has one more bass.

So the difference in sound has to do with the absolutely quality of the string sections or with the music directors' respective demands or with the historical sound of the orchestra. I'm doubtful about the matter of absolute quality, for the simple reason that it is so damn hard to get a job playing in an orchestra. Everybody who auditions has first-class technical skills. Historically, I've no idea what these two orchestras sounded like; I barely went to SFS before the mid-90s and really have only been a regular since 2004.

I was also interested in the variation in wind sound. The BSO winds, which I describe as characterful and kalimac calls pungent, are indeed less blended than the SFS sound. You either like it or you don't. Again speaking historically, the blended sound is more modern. Listening to pre-WWII orchestras, you get more distinctive wind and brass sounds.

The BSO's principal clarinet and oboe both have bigger, somewhat fuller sounds than their SFS counterparts; Elizabeth Rowe's sound is somewhat more complex than Tim Day's silvery purity. They're both great players; I wouldn't tap one over the other.

As for the brass, well, I'll take ours, which seem to have ascended into the stratosphere over the last couple of years.


sfmike said...

I think Calimac went to the wrong concert because Wednesday was awesome and the Tuesday lineup looked pretty dicey. Mozart piano concertos almost never work in Davies Hall and Richard Goode is very dull as you point out. And as much as I adore Berlioz and Bartok, never have to hear the Roman Carnival Overture again and dislike The Miraculous Mandarin because its music is almost as unpleasant as its story.

Lisa Hirsch said...

For Calimac, it was the right program: he cannot bear Mahler. He cannot bear Carter either ("Twitter, twitter"), but 15 minutes of Carter beats an hour of Mahler in his book.