Saturday, March 07, 2009

New Century Chamber Orchestra Goes Russian

The Google search bar for this blog in the top left hand corner can be invaluable. I remembered going to a concert where Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto had been played, and that it was an astonishingly fun performance but I didn't remember who had actually played it. The performers turned out to be Yefim Bronfman at the piano with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the San Francisco Symphony, and unfortunately it was one of those performances that was so good that anybody else's version probably wasn't going to stand a chance in my memory (click here). This turned out to be the case when I heard the New Century Chamber Orchestra perform it on Thursday evening at Herbst Theatre, so I'm having my friend Charlie Lichtman give a report because he didn't know the piece and wasn't unforgivably prejudiced. Take it away, Charlie:

The program began with 16 of the 20 "Visions Fugitives" (1915-1917) by Prokofiev in a piano and string orchestra arrangement by Barshai. The short "art-songs-without-words" sounded more French Impressionist than Russian, with a hint of Bartok's subsequent "night music." It was led by Music Director and Concertmaster Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (above right), and featured her partner, Ann-Marie McDermott (above left), on the piano.

The orchestra moved directly into the the Shostakovich Piano Concerto (1933) without a pause, which seemed a questionable approach. Ms. McDermott aptly handled the keyboard pyrotechnics, and Adam Luftman, principal trumpet in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, played with enthusiasm and deft accuracy. Both reflective and energetic, the concerto moved nicely through the four movements.

After the intermission, the program concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence (1890) for string orchestra. The three movement piece, which was decidedly and ardently romantic, delighted the audience, some of whom felt it necessary to applaud inappropriately at the end of each movement. The orchestra was very "together," moving as a unit through the many mood swings, and the second movement pizzicatos were especially tight, and a real pleasure to hear.


Anonymous said...

There's a very brief clip--I think it's linked from Alex Ross' compilation of examples to go with The Rest is Noise--of Shostakovich playing the last minute or so of that concerto, filmed in the USSR around 1934. I have a recording by Martha Argerich with the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra; I like it a lot, but I'm a stone Argerich fanboy, so your mileage, etc.

affinity said...

sfmike: You are a fabulous reviewer, even regarding things I am not as interested in. Thanks for making such an effort.

Civic Center said...

Dear rootlesscosmo: Just heard Argerich tonight live playing the Ravel piano concerto at the San Francisco Symphony. I'm a stone Argerich fanboy too, and if she'd been playing the Shostakovich there probably would have been no problems with having heard Bronfman/Rostropovich earlier.

Nancy Ewart said...

Mike, you might want to check out the historical recordings at the Internet Music Archive. They are all legal and free and, while of variable quality, are often quite good. I did a search for Shostakovic and came up with a whole page worth:

Axel Feldheim said...

sfmike, I managed to be in your vicinity yet again but still did not cross paths with you!

I admire your restraint in refraining from a critique of the Shostakovich. I heard Bronfman's brilliant & intense interpretation with the SF Symphony as well. It was hard not to think of his performance while listening to Ms. McDermott.

I agree that connecting the Prokofiev & Shostakovich doesn't make any sense. It was like they did it just because they could.

Nadja does inspire energetic playing from the group, though I thought the ensemble got a bit rough at times.

Civic Center said...

Dear Axel: Sorry to miss you once again. It wasn't restraint that kept me from a critique so much as a sense of fairness. There are certain pieces of music I've heard live where the performers were so definitive that they make it very, very difficult to compete with my memory. Leontyne Price singing in "Il Trovatore" or "La Forza del Destino," for instance, or Jon Vickers singing "Peter Grimes" at the San Francisco Opera in the 1970s is probably not going to be bettered in my memory. Another case would be Stuart Canin, the founder of the New Century Chamber Orchestra, playing Mozart's Fourth Violin Concerto with a pickup orchestra led by the late Calvin Simmons. That doesn't mean this music shouldn't continue to be performed, just that I'm probably not going to be the best audience.