San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas at Carnegie Hall – Stravinsky program with Leonidas Kavakos

Petrushka [1947 version]
Violin Concerto in D
The Rite of Spring

Leonidas Kavakos (violin)

San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 4 October, 2018
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

For the second of their two Carnegie Hall concerts, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony turned to Stravinsky.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Carnegie Hall, with Leonidas KavakosPhotograph: twitter @SFSymphonyThe 1947 Petrushka has a leaner orchestration than the 1911 original, and the piano (played brilliantly here by John Wilson) at times represents the title character. In this compelling performance the SFS was in top form, capturing both the pageantry of the scenes at the Shrovetide Fair and the intimate moments in the rooms of Petrushka and the Moor, his rival for the affections of the Magician’s third puppet, the Ballerina. In the final tableau, amidst the excitement of the Fair, the Moor kills Petrushka, a muted trumpet representing the ghost of the slain doll mocking the Magician coming across as especially poignant.

From the opening bars of the Violin Concerto, written with significant input from Samuel Dushkin who premiered it in 1931, it is unmistakably from the same composer’s hand. Leonidas Kavakos found the abounding wit of the rhythmically fascinating ‘Toccata’ and the sweetness of the central two movements, both entitled ‘Aria’, the second’s gorgeous melody played with great tenderness. Kavakos dashed off the rapid scales and pyrotechnics of the closing ‘Capriccio’ with dazzling virtuosity, and, as an encore, offered the Adagietto from Nikos Skalkottas’s Sonata for Solo Violin (1925). (Do explore Skalkottas’s superb thirty-six Greek Dances – Ed.)

The concert concluded with The Rite of Spring, launched by Stephen Paulson’s expressive bassoon solo. MTT often adopted fairly slow tempos that allowed the music to breathe, but made some contrasts with faster passages unusually jarring, thus adding extra impact to the shocks that pervade this extraordinary work. The SFS was terrific in generating the fascinating array of colors. At the outset of Part II, ‘The Sacrifice’, MTT conjured an aura of mystery that soon dissipated as the volume and pace increased, the bass drum booming prominently. The final chord came off with the essential unanimous impact.

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