Friday, October 16, 2009

Music I'm Listening To: Itzhak Perlman and the San Francisco Symphony

Just got back from hearing Itzhak Perlman play with and conduct the San Francisco Symphony. Perlman played the Bach Violin Concerto No. 2, conducting as he played. He later led the orchestra in Elgar's Introduction and Allegro--one of my favorite pieces of music--and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6. Had an early dinner at Café Delle Stelle, on Hayes St. beforehand. Solid, but not great. Still, it was fairly priced, I'd say. Actually, considering that they were packed, it was not bad at all. I had grilled shrimp with tuscan white beans for a starter and then Tagliatelle. Enjoyed a tasty Verdicchio along with it.

It was fun to see Perlman live again. I have seen him in person once before, in 1983 or so. That was a long time ago, but it is a concert I remember vividly. He played one of the Bach solo partitas or sonatas, at Mershon Auditorium, in Columbus, Ohio. I remember paying $8 for the ticket--and it was a good seat. Tonight he played a Violin Concerto, not a solo piece. I'm afraid it was a bit disappointing. Perlman was difficult to hear against the backdrop of the orchestra. The playing seemed highly competent--as it always is in San Francisco--but it lacked spark. Perhaps it was just me. I had the feeling that Perlman was tuned a trifle flat, as well. That's probably my imagination, or related to the muddy sound. Whatever the reason, I was disappointed.

No matter. I have learned to cherish the gems of live performances and not worry too much about the disappointments, and the Elgar Introduction and Allegro was wonderful. Perlman took the orchestra through a somewhat more lush interpretation than the one I'm used to (on Edward Elgar: Works for String Orchestra, William Boughton conducting the English String Orchestra, Nimbus NIM 5008). Despite Perlman's interpretation being a little more romantic than the one I know, it was disciplined. Perlman managed to make the music feel both lush and restrained at the same time. While that may sound contradictory, a nice balance of the romantic and the restrained seems just right for Elgar somehow. I had never seen this piece performed before. I enjoyed watching the hand-offs from section to section in the fugue-like section toward the end of the piece. Very enjoyable. The concert was worth it just for this.

Like the Elgar, the Tchaikovsky was fun to watch. There's a lot going on in this one, especially among the woodwinds, in the brass section, and in the percussion section (and the woodwinds of the San Francisco Symphony are always particularly good). It was interesting to see the bass drum player rotate the drum back and forth between vertical and horizontal positions, the latter for the loudest strokes. I wonder how that's written into the score? The Fifth Symphony is still my favorite of the Tchaikovsky symphonies, but this was a solid performance. I hadn't realized Perlman was conducting as much as he seems to be these days.

Photo of Itzhak Perlman used with permission: Courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony.

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