Sunday, December 1, 2019

Music I'm Listening To: Leif Ove Andsnes Plays Mozart with the San Francisco Symphony

Conductor and soloist after the Mozart
I attended the November 22 San Francisco Symphony concert at Davies Symphony Hall, which featured guest conductor Manfred Honeck and soloist Leif Ove Andsnes playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, and, after intermission, Bruckner's Symphony No. 4.

Mozart's piano sonatas, particularly the later ones, are fairly familiar to me, but No. 22 is one I don't know well at all. Looking through my LPs and CDs, I see that I don't own a single recording of it, so, it was interesting to gain a little familiarity. What stood out to me were the several sections of "group solos," to use an oxymoron—in particular, sections played mostly by the woodwinds. The program notes point out that this was the first of the Mozart piano sonatas scored to include clarinets, and, listening to the piece, you get the feeling the composer was having fun seeing what the clarinet might do in a piano concerto. The San Francisco woodwind section is always very strong and they stood out again here. In another section, only the principal cello, principal viola, the concertmaster, and the principal second violin seemed to be accompanying the piano, as if a mini piano quintet had been inserted into the middle of things. As an encore, Andsnes played what he described as some "Norwegian country dances," I think it was, without revealing anything more (probably Grieg). Not my kind of thing, but pleasant enough.

Honeck's reading of the Bruckner seemed a little uneven to me, with the first movement somehow lacking coherence, but everything came together after that. This performance was marked particularly by an unusual emphasis on the dynamics. The loudest parts were very loud indeed, the softest parts very, very soft. Again, very enjoyable ,and the horns deserve high praise, but the best performance I've ever heard of this remains the only other I've ever heard live—same place, same orchestra, but led by Herbert Blomstedt in a concert of April 11, 2014.

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