The Latvian violinist Baiba Skride above played the famous Sibelius Violin Concerto last week with the San Francisco Symphony, and though there were exquisite moments in the quieter sections, the more vigorous passages tended to be recessive to the point of blandness.
The orchestra, on the other hand, under Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, gave a thrilling performance behind her that reminded one of how great the concerto can be. This was also the case with in the opening piece, Finlandia, Sibelius' patriotic 1900 hymn to independence from Russia which did not take place until 1917. It was an eccentric reading, free of the usual cliches, and thoroughly enjoyable.
After intermission, Vänskä led the orchestra in the 1925 Shostakovich First Symphony, which the composer wrote as a teenager in the Conservatory. The young musical genius threw everything but the kitchen sink into this piece, with jazzy piano solos, sections that were delicately scored for a chamber ensemble, and massive full-orchestra climaxes. None of the musical ideas seems to last more than a minute or two and the 30-minute symphony can sound either brilliant and/or a disjointed mess. I listened to about ten different versions on YouTube from Toscanini to Petrenko, and what was interesting was how wildly different they all were from each other. (My favorite was the WDR Sinfonieorchester being conducted by the late Rudolph Bashai, who I had never heard of before.) The performance by the SF Symphony was great, with Vänskä making the piece sound coherent without losing any of its wildness. It was wonderful hearing the music live.