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
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.