Sunday, April 27, 2014

Trumpet versus Piano

So, in this unbelievably busy weekend (SFCMP Spring Thunder; Opera Parallele; Acis & Galatea), I more or less punted on everything, attending only Friday night's San Francisco Symphony performance, where James Conlon was making his annual appearance.

Well, you win some and you lose some: Conlon has been one of my go-to conductors for the last few years, following great performances of Zemlinsky, Verdi, and Shostakovich at SFS and some very fine work in Britten, Janacek, and Wagner at LA Opera. But Friday night's concert was something of a disappointment.

I have to at least partly blame my seat, in Row W, which made the orchestra sound distant, and my tiredness. I had a long week at work. The rest of the audience loved the show, but I see that Joshua Kosman had some reservations about the first performance, so I am not completely alone.

Conlon, as is his wont, picked up the mike as soon as he got on the podium, and started yakking about Erwin Schulhoff, composer of the first work on the program. He lost me twice: as soon as he said that probably none of us had ever heard a Schulhoff work in the flesh (I have - in fact, maybe two), and when he kept yakking and yakking and yakking. Maestro, we have program notes for this stuff. One or two anecdotes, fine, but you duplicated an awful lot of what was in the program, which, yes, I had read.

The Schulhoff work in question was the Scherzo from his Third Fifth Symphony, and it is a ferocious little juggernaut. That certainly isn't all there is to Schulhoff, though, and my sense of the playing was that it was a little helter-skelter. As Joshua noted, why couldn't they have played the whole thing?

This was followed by what I would guess was a good performance of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as the soloist. I like Thibaudet a lot, and this concerto has the added attraction of a very big solo trumpet part, which meant Mark Inouye, of whom I have the highest possible opinion. It is an entertaining work, with the trumpet and piano seemingly at odds with one another. (Somebody should program it with the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto, in fact, which features clarinet versus snare drum.) I enjoyed it a great deal and have little else to say, as I had never heard it before and didn't take any notes.

Here's the reason that Conlon should have played the whole Schulhoff: the second half of the program was the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony, Pathetique, which reminded me of why I have spent my concertgoing career avoiding performances of the Tchaikovsky symphonies. I just do not like them very much. Yes, pretty tunes, but they all feel episodic to me rather than developmental. As for the performance....there were some fine moments (the march) but also some unruly ones.

I had hopes that Conlon might do for the Sixth what Blomstedt did for the Schubert Great C Major a few weeks ago, but no such luck: I am not the slightest bit more convinced by the piece than I was Thursday. Maybe I need to run down some 1930s Russian performances of Tchaikowsky's symphonies, because maybe the performances I've heard just miss the stylistic mark. Or maybe I should just give up completely and leave at intermission.


Michael Strickland said...

I think the Schulhoff work in question was the Scherzo from his Fifth Symphony rather than Third. He seems to be the latest rediscovery fad, because pieces by him keep appearing on every other chamber music concert I've been going to lately. Which is fine, because he was an interesting composer.

Still, I am very sad you didn't make it to the Weill/Poulenc Opera Parallele show this weekend. It was great music with a superior cast, orchestra/conductor, and production, not to mention me parading around the stage in a motorcycle helmet and life vest for 90 minutes.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I am sorry too, but there is only so much I can do. And right you are about the Schulhoff. I have fixed my goof; thank you.

Anonymous said...

Like Mozart, Tchaikovsky can be awfully tedious when played without true commitment.

I too have heard Schulhoff performed live before. I heard one of his string quartets less than a month ago.

Top marks in my experience for most irritating "I know this composer but you don't" remarks by a performer came from Menahem Pressler, of all people, who claimed we wouldn't know even the name of the author of his encore piece.

It was J.N. Hummel.

saintrussell said...

If you don't know the late-20s Mengelberg recordings of Tchaikovsky 4 and 5, please give them a listen. If you're still not sold, you can give up on Tchaikovsky symphonies, with my blessing.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thank you! I will check out those recording - love Mengelberg and his every eccentricity.

Which of the older recordings do you like for the 6th?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, well, looks as though there is a Mengelberg 6 as well.

Henry Holland said...

Erwin Schulhoff's opera Flammen is terrific, a Don Juan story that doesn't follow the usual DJ plots.

Lisa Hirsch said...

There's a recording of Flammen with Jane Eaglen in her prime, isn't there? I've been meaning to buy it since the mid-90s.

Henry Holland said...

Yes, that's the recording, in the Decca Ententarte Musik series.