Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Double Concertos

Despite my lack of postings, believe it or not, I've been to a few concerts lately, all at SFS. Herewith some brief comments, as the first was nearly a month ago.

Janowski/Schumann, Brahms, with Arabella Steinbacher (violin) and Alban Gerhardt (cello)

This was my first time hearing all Marek Janowski live, and the first time I'd heard either Steinbacher or Gerhardt. Janowski's Ring cycle is one I recommend to people a lot, for its excellent singing (except for Theo Adam...sigh), the great sonics, excellent orchestra, and the straightforward, sometimes inspired conducting. And also the fact that when it has been in print, it's a tremendous bargain - I think I saw it for around $40 somewhere this week. Anyway, I have a high opinion of it and have mostly read very good things about Janowski in the central Central European repertory, which a program of Brahms and Schumann...well, you see.

The opening Manfred Overture was fine, the Brahms Double Concerto, for violin and cello, magnificent. I haven't got much in the way of reference points for this piece, to the point that I have no idea when I last heard it or who was playing, but everything about the performance, from Janowski's handling of the orchestra to the playing of the soloists, separately and together, was just right. You could not ask for anything more.

The closing Rhenish Symphony was another case. By comparison, it sounded a little untidy - I heard the orchestra in its first performance of the program, at a donor event - and, weirdly, it was both faster than I prefer and somehow ponderous anyway. Speed and lightness of touch are not the same thing; the orchestra sounded a little clotted and the most graceful bits of the piece were heavy. I realize that to some extent I probably still have David Hoose's interpretation in my head from when I played flute in this during college; moreover, my favorite recording is Gardiner's, with the ORR. (If you've never heard his Schumann set, run out and buy it right away. Srsly.) So take that into consideration.

Robertson/Carter, Ravel, Gershwin, Ravel, with Marc-Andre Hamelin

This program, by contrast, was a winner all around, a big thrill. I caught it the last day it was playing, I think, or I would have gone back for seconds. The Carter Variations for Orchestra is a terrific piece, quite beautiful, and for Carter, comparatively easy to follow. I wish we didn't have to depend on visiting orchestras and conductors to get a dose of orchestral Carter, but you really cannot do better than David Robertson. 

The meat of the program was the great Marc-Andre Hamelin playing the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. As Joshua Kosman said in the Chron, the only thing better than Marc-Andre Hamelin playing one piano concerto is Marc-Andre Hamelin playing two. As you might guess, he wiped the floor with both pieces, which you can do when you have about 25% more physical technique than anyone else in the world and you're a tremendous musician. After hearing him in several programs at Ojai North last year, I started telling people he was my new favorite living pianist. (Sorry, Martha and Stephen!) It was a lot of fun to hear the two concertos in close proximity, given that the composers were acquainted, and quite a feat on Hamelin's part. 

The closing La Valse was appropriately hot, crazed, and just a little bit scary.

I need to note that the timpanist for the performance was Michael Israelievitch, and he was fabulous, especially in the prominent solo part in the Carter.

Karabits/Honneger, Britten, Sibelius, with Alexander Barantschik, violin and Jonathan Vinocour, viola

It's just plain weird to have heard Honneger's chugging Pacific 231 twice within about 18 months. Last time around was with the CSO, under Muti, but I don't remember that much about it. It sure is fun, though, and was played this time by the SFS under debuting returning conductor Kiril Karabits. It was followed by a gorgeous account of the Britten double concerto for violin and viola, with concertmaster Barantschik and principal violist Vinocour playing the heck out of it. I gather this is a posthumous reconstruction from sketches, but I can't give you details, as I haven't read the program notes yet. (Long story short: can't read with my new contact lenses, not until I get the reading glasses that will go over them.) Anyway, a beautiful piece, played with poise and involvement by all.

The Sibelius was fine, but man, it is an odd piece in some ways: irregular phrasing, off-balance pacing. I sort of checked out somewhere during the finale, or lost focus, or something. Elsewhere on the Internet, a friend of mine thought it was too Tchaikowskian; I have no opinion on this.

My last SFS program of the year is likely to be next week's Les Noces/Sacre du Printemps noisefest. The last time MTT did this combo, maybe ten years back, it was fabulous. I bet this will be too.

UPDATE: Whoops, Karabits made his debut a couple of years back. And thanks to SF Mike for mentioning that the 6/21 program is at 6:30, or I would have been in big trouble.


Michael Strickland said...

Just for info, Kirill Karabits wasn't debuting here last week since I heard him conduct the Symphony in 2011.

Also going to Les Noces on the Friday 6:30 concert. Can't wait.

nobleviola said...

The Britten was completed in short score - I got to see the manuscript when I attended the Britten-Pears School eons ago. A lot of the orchestrations were notated, so it was largely a matter of filling them in to produce the finished work. A wonderful piece, and it was a shame that Britten never had it performed/published during his lifetime.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Whoops! Thanks, Mike; I will fix that in a moment.

Charles, thank you. I need to actually read those program notes.

Joe Barron said...

"I wish we didn't have to depend on visiting orchestras and conductors to get a dose of orchestral Carter ..." Hey, at least you get orchestral Carter. It never happens in Philadelphia.

vlhorowitz said...

Glad to see you're a big fan of Hamelin :)
If only we could find a way to get Sokolov in SF...

Lisa Hirsch said...

Sokolov refuses to play in the US these days, doesn't he?

Yeah, Hamelin. A great player, with the weirdest recorded repertory of any living pianist.

vlhorowitz said...

Hamelin's is an eclectic one, but necessary, I feel, in times like these. Medtner deserves to be heard more (and we can go down the list from there).

Would love to hear Sokolov live in the US, since he doesn't record much...

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes, agree about Medtner; an underrated composer. Also Alkan and all those other guys MAH records and plays.

vlhorowitz said...

Yes, apparently Horowitz used to program a ton of Medtner, but audiences/critics didn't react so favorably. By the way, have you seen this current bit from Biss ? What a beautiful SF Symphony performance: