Edinburgh International Festival music review: San Francisco Symphony 1 at the Usher Hall, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Susan Nickalls
One almost needs sunglasses when listening to the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) as their distinctive sound is so bright and dazzling.
Together with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, the orchestra delivered a superlative reading of Mahler’s Symphony No 1 with the horn and trumpet sections easily stealing the show.
The pastoral elements of the symphony are almost psychedelic with the clarinet’s edgy cuckoo calls and the boisterous hunting fanfares.
The highlight though was the funereal transformation of the children’s song, Frère Jacques into the minor key making for a sinister “round” that eerily drifted through the different sections of the orchestra.
The SFS has a close relationship with composer John Adams who wrote Absolute Jest for their centenary. Packed with wall-to-wall quotes from Beethoven symphonies and string quartets, this would be a largely unremarkable “spot the quote” piece if not for the St Lawrence String Quartet.
Their thrilling high octane performance ignites and gives focus to an overly long and repetitive work that would otherwise be going nowhere.
Schoenberg’s quixotic Theme and Variations Op 43b didn’t quite come off, with some of the tempi out of kilter, much of the detailed subtext blurred and Tilson Thomas resigned to just beating time.
Published in The Scotsman on 29 August 2015
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