On October 23, San Francisco Symphony concertmaster Alexander Barantschik, Principal Second Violin Dan Carlson, and Principal Keyboard Robin Sutherland starred as soloists at the Davies Symphony Hall in a program of four seemingly unrelated works by three composers. Thursday’s performance included “Summer” from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons; Bach’s Keyboard Concert No. 3 and Concerto for Two Violins; and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence.
The evening began with a journey through the seasons, namely Vivaldi’s “Summer” from The Four Seasons. The tempestuous and polemic characteristics resonated from the passionate, yet experientially stoic Barantschik. His solemn and modest demeanor would not have led you to expect the brilliant playing he was exhaustively producing on his violin. He put up an unmoving front, but his performance was anything but.
The piece itself was flawlessly executed in all respects, with particular emphasis on the turbulent ambience the piece inherently possesses; the power, emotion, and confidence displayed by Barantschik reigned, raining down on blustery harmonic clouds before an impressive finish. We believe we speak for everyone when we say the orchestra’s thunderous final bellows generated a figurative fog that hung in the air for moments afterwards before dispersing to reveal the orchestral proud with Barantschik standing as the concerto’s Prometheus.
Next was Sutherland’s showcasing of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 3, followed by Barantschik and Carlson’s performance of Concerto for Two Violins by the same composer. It would be foolish to pretend that Sutherland’s task was an easy one. Keyboard Concerto No. 3 is seldom graced with repetitive phrasing; its perpetually varying patterns are difficult to reproduce with unfaltering vigor and artistic conscience.
To us, it seemed that Sutherland was not immune to the work’s technical difficulty and became frustrated with his own playing. Although the performance of the song lacked that certain crucial, subtle floating elegance, its technical component was still completed masterfully. Whatever Sutherland’s contention was, it was quickly forgotten by the audience as the program transitioned into Concerto for Two Violins.
The concert’s strength was locked within the violin segments — whether it was the soloists or the accompanying violinists, who set the vacillating emotions within every piece.
Carlston we noted was more physical in his performance, unlike Barantschik earlier. At times both were battling, at others they were dancing. This juxtaposition between chaos and peace was the single most astounding element, and probably the most difficult to perfect. It was truly wonderful to see how two virtuosos embraced the piece in their own way: one taking the physical immersion whilst the other taming it within his own mind. Both formulas had the same outcome: Beauty.
Like most final things, Thursday’s final piece was the most beautiful of all.
Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence has a very interesting and ironic history. Started in 1887, Tchaikovsky put a hold on the project until 1890, when he was in Florence, Italy. In many ways the title is very misleading. During the winter of 1890, Tchaikovsky built its melodic theme, naming it the “souvenir of Florence,” where he was at the time. The melody later evolved into the sextet’s slow movement. Nothing else in the piece actually evokes Italy, and the music itself is actually rather melancholic.
What distinguishes this particular song from the rest of the program is its embedded elegance. Every instrumental part is gentle, whereas the rest of the program featured domineering and characterizing solos. In the Tchaikovsky, we witness an orchestra collectively painting a 19th century work of art. That night, the gentle tread of every San Francisco Symphony musician was felt and appreciated.
And so the tempestuous beginning was resolved, with a gentle yet invigorating finish. The battle of the violins, the glorious voice of the piano, and the unity of everything at the end forgave the lack of unity within the program, when considering the transitions from piece to piece; the underlying theme of the night was music and music alone.
Article by Nikos Zarikos