Thursday, October 30, 2008

Zimerman Plays Lutoslawski

This weeks' program at the San Francisco Symphony of Lutoslawski's Piano Concerto and Bruckner's Symphony No. 2 couldn't be any more forbidding if it tried, and Davies Hall on Wednesday evening was only about two-thirds full.

Poland's greatest 20th century composer, Witold Lutoslawski, died in 1994 at the age of 81. He wrote his only piano concerto for a young Polish phenom, Krystian Zimerman, in 1987. 21 years later Mr. Zimerman (above left) is prematurely white-haired and still a completely sensational pianist. To hear him play this concerto live is one of those extremely special events you really should try not to miss, either at today's 2PM matinee or again on Saturday evening.

Between 1986 and 1993, Lutoslawski conducted his own music with the San Francisco Symphony three different times, and I remember going to a couple of the concerts. I never became a real fan of his music, but I always figured the problem was mine because it was never less than interesting, filled with tautness, great rhythms, strangeness, and almost too many ideas.

The San Francisco Symphony's music director from 1985-1995, Herbert Blomstedt, is back at the conductor's podium for a two-week stint and he only seems to be getting better with age. Seventh-day Adventism and vegetarianism really seems to be working for him, because at age 81, he looks younger and more energized than he did 20 years ago.

Having said that, I only made it through the first movement of the 75-minute Bruckner symphony, because if ever there were a composer who is not my cup of tea, it would be old Anton. There are quite a few people who adore his music, but to my ears it sounds insistent, obvious, heavyhanded, and elephantine. If Bruckner is your thing, however, Blomstedt conducts the thing with beauty and total commitment and I'd recommend the entire concert.


Ced said...

I'm so sad I'm missing this series, that's one of the most intriguing concert of the season!

Anonymous said...

I've got Zimerman's recording of this piece, though I don't think I'll be able to make the concert, and I share your high opinion of him; his recording of the Beethoven 4th Concerto is my favorite, and that's in a field that includes Claudio Arrau.