Articles by Steven Kruger

Music

The Utah Symphony with Andrew Litton, conductor and Philippe Quint, violin in Bernstein, Corigliano, and Tchaikovsky

There's something a little otherworldly and disorienting about Salt Lake City, I'm tempted to say, especially if you aren't Mormon or familiar with the ways of the LDS Church. It's unusual to encounter a spotless downtown in any American city, of course, but you do wonder at times if Salt Lake is a Hollywood set designed to make one's own sense of human imperfection uncomfortable. Utah, in general, is almost too beautiful to be real—but the city is curiously empty—even in the Bermuda shorts weather of late October. Immensely wide, perfectly laid-out avenues are nearly people free. (The "don't walk" signs count down from 30). There are few homeless people visible, though sometimes they are the only citizens seemingly present, horizontal black marks visible on distant sidewalks.
HHA

A Crop of Recordings XXIII: Barenboim’s Brahms, Orozco-Estrada’s Strauss, Szell’s Walton and Stravinsky

If I tell you here is the side of Brahms which kept a score of Parsifal open on his piano, I think we are more than halfway to understanding what Daniel Barenboim has tried to do with this composer and now achieves more fully and authentically than in his Chicago Symphony cycle recorded for Erato several decades ago. The Staatskapelle Berlin has always been a Brahms orchestra of the old school, as Otmar Suitner’s 1984 digital cycle for Berlin Classics, recorded in the Lukaskirche, wonderfully demonstrated, but Barenboim has maintained and encouraged its nutty/creamy sonority to new levels of evocative lushness and subtle woodwind tone coloration. He doesn’t aim to compete for brilliance with the Berlin Philharmonic. Indeed, the sound here boasts a theatrical darkness and elision, first, foremost and nearly always. I imagine this still resembles the burnished sonority my German father heard in Berlin before the First World War.
Recordings

A Crop of Recordings XXII: Atterberg, Frommel, Walton, Elgar, and Roussel

Amusingly, this parses out to us a bit like Sir Edward Elgar gone Hollywood in the more outgoing moments. The music gleams from below as it strides forth on buttered strings and brass. The slow movement has a mesmeric, rocking, floaty quality which seems never to end and then does…”unfinished.” For a finale, Atterberg necessarily cannot evoke what Schubert did not write, so we encounter a rather haltingly fugal enterprise at first which gathers steam until we are going full tilt in the triumphant manner of Richard Strauss meets Copland. Yes, I know. What on earth does that sound like? Well, the final march is treated in the Shostakovich/Tubin/Copland manner, but the propulsive tune itself is essentially the nervous last movement fugal subject from Strauss’s Symphonia Domestica. You will have to listen to it to know! And the bumptious bells-and-whistles ending is worth the price of admission.
Music

Stéphane Denève Leads the San Francisco Symphony in Ibert, Saint-Saëns, Connesson, and Respighi, with Cellist Gautier Capuçon

There's much to be said for keeping personal politics away from concert music. Composers know this. Audiences prefer pictorialism and evocation to propaganda. That's why they are in the hall. Even Shostakovich, chronicler of Soviet political events, composed that way. But not all critics have the self-discipline to leave smug prejudice at home. The San Francisco Chronicle's local reviewer, who normally precedes New York Arts into print and shall be nameless here, launched an atavistic attack this week on Stéphane Denève's program choice of Respighi's Pines of Rome, calling the work "proto-fascist" and condemning it's march up the Appian Way as an appeal to nationalist sentiment. How ridiculous!
Recordings

A Crop of Recordings XXI: Brahms, Pierné, and Mahler

It’s good to have Brahms symphonies from the Boston Symphony once again. They sound right, with caveats. A full cycle hasn’t been a reliable tradition since Koussevitzky. Charles Munch recorded only three of the symphonies on LP in Boston. Erich Leinsdorf did produce as set, but Seiji Ozawa recorded merely the First in 1977 for DGG, and Bernard Haitink’s Philips CDs from the early nineties disappeared pretty much as soon as they were released. There were no BSO Brahms symphonies released by James Levine with the orchestra during his tenure. The Boston Symphony has always been a European-leaning ensemble, less “Hollywood” in sonority than the Philadelphia Orchestra and minimally “Broadway” in energy compared with the New York Philharmonic. Symphony Hall’s burnished acoustic, a byproduct of sonic archery from its cupids in alcoves, its high ceilings and a pliant wooden floor, is a conspirator in this and ideally suited for Brahms.
Music

San Francisco Symphony Resident Conductor Christian Reif shines in Wagner, Liszt, and Holst, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano.

A number of years ago now-disgraced Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit brought down the house at Davies Hall with Holst's The Planets. I recall that evening well, a grand traditional performance. On a recent Sunday, though, San Francisco's Resident Conductor, 28 year-old German-born Christian Reif, did better than that. He not only delivered a white-hot account of Holst's interplanetary suite which will play well on Jupiter once the sounds get there. He jump-started what I hope will be a major career. As local music patrons are aware, Michael Tilson Thomas will be leaving our orchestra after another season. Under the circumstances, every guest conductor looms large in the institutional gimlet eye. Leonard Bernstein's conducting career, after all, rocketed when Bruno Walter caught a bout of the flu. Christian Reif's renown may well benefit from Charles Dutoit's bout with moral turpitude....
Music

San Francisco Symphony, Edward Gardner, conductor, Simon Trpčeski, piano, play Tippett, Gershwin, and Rachmaninoff

Though Michael Tilson Thomas doesn't step away from our podium officially until the summer of 2020, his recently announced departure ensures every guest conducting week at the San Francisco Symphony between now and then amounts to a job interview for the Music Directorship. English conductor Edward Gardner, current Music Director of the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway and a frequent recording artist for Chandos with British orchestras, surely had this possibility in mind for his impressive debut program here last week: a shrewdly chosen British signature piece; a bow to MTT's New York Broadway roots with Gershwin, and Rachmaninoff's final blockbuster, written in America. He brought the house down.
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