New York Arts in San Francisco

Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra in San Francisco play Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto with Denis Matsuev and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15

This week, the touring Mariinsky Orchestra, led by the ubiquitous Valery Gergiev, performed two evenings at Davies Hall in San Francisco. The first program, which I did not hear, was devoted to Prokofiev ballets and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The second, more intriguing to me, presented Shostakovich’s enigmatic final symphony, as well as an opportunity to assess the Rachmaninoff artistry of Denis Matsuev, who is being hailed these days as a pianist in the Horowitz tradition.

Myung-Whun Chung conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in an All-Ravel Program

For a good part of this reviewer’s life, it would seem, the world has been waiting for a truly great International French symphony orchestra. At mid-century, a general feeling was that the Boston Symphony under Sergei Koussevitzky and Charles Munch carried the torch for French music, ably assisted by Paul Paray in Detroit, Pierre Monteux wherever he could be found, and, on disc, by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva.

Herbert Blomstedt conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Mozart and Bruckner

There appears to be something of a tug-of-war going on in the world of Mozart performances.

In the ascendancy these days, self-confident revisionist scholars, seeking to sweep away Victorian accretion, place before the public spiky, twangy and fiercely rhythmical works for small forces of original instruments. Traditional Mozart conductors, on the political defensive and seemingly chastened as romantics, come to audience rescue with slightly more refined, slightly less detuned, slightly more softly sprung music for slightly larger forces. Scarcely anyone anymore, (perhaps Barenboim), will stand before 100 players and lead a symphony by Mozart or Haydn in the manner of a Bruno Walter, an Otto Klemperer, a Herbert Von Karajan or a George Szell.

Walton’s Violin Concerto and Holst’s “The Planets” at the San Francisco Symphony with Dutoit and Barantschik

1939 must have been the year neoclassic front ranks gave up on William Walton. Here was the “English Stravinsky”, who had burst forth with silvery elbow-wit in “Facade” and scandalized church officials in “Belshazzar’s Feast.” More recently, his First Symphony had transformed telegraphic rhythm into sheer motorized power, gleaming and heartless. (only the finale, composed late and omitted at the premiere, had hinted at something more sensual and cinematic) The earlier Viola Concerto had parsed-out like the cleanest Hindemith, moving because of its beauty, but bereft of the senses.

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