Many thanks to Robert R. Reilly for this review from Davies Hall in San Francisco.
Bruckner, Symphonies 1-9, Cologne RSO, G. Wand
Bruckner, Symphonies, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, H. Blomstedt
I think of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto as a largely extroverted affair, filled with joie de vivre. However, anyone who came expecting to be jolted by Beethoven’s electricity might have been disappointed by the relatively low voltage level of orchestral energy. Blomstedt chose, rather, a warm, reflective, mellow approach. It was particularly effective in poetic stretches, but lacked an element of excitement. It served, however, as a perfectly fine setting for the sublime artistry of Maria João Pires, who, remarkably, was making her debut with the San Francisco Symphony. She played with a full range of expression in a way that made the most of every finely articulated note. The first movement cadenza was particularly remarkable. Only a deeply experienced, fully mature artist could play with the level of confidence and nuance she exhibited. If I tried to put it in a nutshell, I would say it was like listening to a female Wilhelm Kempff. In all, the performance perspective of soloist, conductor, and orchestra was toward inwardness, rather than outwardness. It showed a perhaps slightly unexpected side of this relatively youthful Beethoven.
Blomstedt chose the early 1873 Nowak edition of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3. In fact, it was Blomstedt who premiered this version of the Bruckner Third in the United States in 1998. As awkward as parts of it may be, it is well to keep in mind the remark of the famous Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache, who said of the Third Symphony: “This is the first manifestation of great, spacious, broad-plane thinking – incredibly extended – representing the essence of his later symphonic writing.” That is exactly right. In the Third, one can hear Bruckner’s greatness coming right around the corner. And in what does that greatness consist? The excellent Playbill program notes by Michael Steinberg quote Wilhelm Furtwängler to the effect that, “Bruckner is one of those geniuses who have appeared but seldom in the course of European history, whose destiny it was to render the transcendent real and to attract, even to compel, the element of the divine into our human world.” That level of greatness is more promised than realized in the Third, but there is enough of it there to reward attention.
Georgia Rowe, Blomstedt and Bruckner prove a winning combination on San Francisco's Davies Hall stage (San Jose Mercury News, February 26)
Joshua Kosman, Blomstedt makes a halting case for Bruckner (San Francisco Chronicle, February 26)