Thursday, February 18, 2010

British Planets at the Symphony

I was looking forward to last week's San Francisco Symphony program because it featured a favorite guest conductor, the 73-year-old Charles Dutoit, and the second half of the program was Gustav Holst's "The Planets" which I'd somehow never heard live before.

Unfortunately, the program turned out to be a bit lackluster. Maybe it was because Dutoit was focused on his nuptials at San Francisco City Hall February 8th to Chantal Juillet, his ex-concertmaster from the Montreal Symphony.

The concert's first half was devoted to British composer William Walton's 1939 Violin Concerto which he wrote for Jascha Heifetz, and with a dazzling soloist the piece is probably quite fun, but San Francisco Symphony concertmaster Alexander Barantschik gave a recessive performance, note-perfect but not really standing out from the orchestra behind him.

Fellow Brit Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was a fascinating character who was deeply involved in East Indian philosophy and religion, and also a dabbler in astrology. His most famous work is "The Planets" from 1916, which starts with "Mars, the Bringer of War" with its propulsive, "stupid" rhythms that have been copied by film composers ever since, and ends with "Neptune, the Mystic," complete with an ethereal offstage women's chorus.

The noisy, popular movements such as Mars and Jupiter came off well, but the rest of the piece dissipated into dullness. Maybe next time it will be astronomically fabulous, but that wasn't the case last Saturday night.

1 comment:

Kit Stolz said...

Maybe "The Planets" is a work a little too rough for Dutoit's style -- creamy and smooth.