San Francisco Symphony

Debussy
Jeux – Poème dansé
Ravel
Piano Concerto in G
Mahler
Symphony No.10 – Adagio
Wagner
Götterdämmerung – Siegfried’s Rhine Journey

Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)

San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas


Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 19 April, 2006
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

This program originally included Berg’s “Lulu” Suite, sung by soprano Celena Shafer. As she is pregnant with twins, however, her doctors advised her to rest and Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto was substituted.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet was the soloist, and he proved himself an ideal interpreter of this work. His assured playing had the light touch this work often requires, as well as the brilliance one expects. Both the pianist and the orchestra’s excellent woodwind soloists seamlessly spun out the elegy of the second movement.

Debussy’s Jeux had opened the French half of the program. One of his last completed orchestra works, written for Diaghilev, it describes the interactions between a boy and two girls while searching for a lost tennis ball. Eclipsed two weeks after its premiere in 1913 by the scandal of the opening night of The Rite of Spring, it is has sometimes been called one of the composer’s neglected masterpieces. A champion of this work since the 1970s, Michael Tilson Thomas gave a highly colorful and well thought-out reading of the score, beautifully executed by the orchestra.

Gustav Mahler wrote his Tenth Symphony in the summer of 1910 amidst a marital crisis – his wife Alma had become involved with the young architect Walter Gropius. The composer was able to sketch five movements and more or less orchestrate two of them, the Adagio and ‘Purgatorio’, before he had to return to his duties as a conductor in New York. Unfortunately he died the following May before finishing the work. Tilson Thomas chose to emphasise the lyrical elements of the opening Adagio, luxuriating in the beauty of the writing, but at the cost of losing sight of its underlying tensions and turmoil. Even the famous chord of nine notes, the Adagio’s wrenching, dissonant climax, came across as a smoothed-out pileup of sounds, rather than the strident outcry one expects.

The closing selection from Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” continued the conductor’s tendency to search for tonal opulence rather than drama in the music. It was surprising therefore that he chose the economy of playing not Wagner’s grandiose original score, but a pared-down version for standard orchestra, which was not identified in the program or program notes (most likely an adaptation of the Englebert Humperdinck arrangement). The extra brass, which lends such visceral excitement to the music, was sorely missed.

Grieg’s lyrical The Last Spring, for strings, followed as an encore.



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