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The San Francisco Orchestra

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
03/11/2008 -  and March 13
William Schuman: Violin Concerto
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”

Gil Shaham (Violin)
San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas (Music Director and Conductor)

If Carnegie Hall wasn’t filled to the rafters for this fine orchestra and its charismatic conductor, the explanation is simply that Wednesday’s concert is, on paper, more interesting. Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony, Strauss and Barber sung by Deborah Voigt, and Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony under Tilson Thomas’ baton seems more varied and colorful than one concerto (William Schuman) and the all-too-familiar Eroica.

But when Gil Shahan is the soloist, and this Schuman is the revised concerto which Issac Stern introduced 50 years ago, the program should have been fascinating, which it most certainly was.

William Schuman may not be the most fashionable composer today, but as an unashamed Romantic, and a master of strings and orchestral color, he should be better known. Certainly when Gil Shahan started this half-hour two-movement concerto with a fervent tune, and the orchestra joined in for a movement of constant change and the kind of energy upon which Tilson Thomas thrives.
Outside of a section marked molto tranquillo, the movement was brusque, angular, it edged towards jazz, it had a pop-song start to the cadenza, and was always surprising. The singularity is that it isn’t quite a concerto for violin, since the instrument blends back and forth with the orchestra, sometimes in opposition, sometimes in little duets with the winds.
And Shaham, who once was such a dulcet-toned soloist, now has added a very mature warmth to his instrument.
That was especially needed in the second movement, which, for Schuman, was uncharacteristically dissonant. But between the clout of the brass, the great strokes of the timpani, and a wonderful section for three trombones and Shahan’s fiddle, this was a rather playful concerto. On paper, the length and structure domineer, but in practice, one feels nothing but joy for the writing, and the performance.

The second half was another kind of dominance, Beethoven’s Third Symphony. For a conductor schooled on (and friends with), all the great American composers, from Stravinsky to Bernstein, Tilson Thomas conducts a Beethoven with all the brio of any European conductor. The Funeral March was a bit weary, but the first movement had all the energy of the preceding Schuman, the Scherzo showed the San Francisco horns at their best, and the Finale was taken at a joyous and rightly triumphant gallop.

Note from Christian Dalzon (editor at ConcertoNet.com):
A regrettable error appeared yesterday in Mr. Rolnick’s review of Stephen Hough’s recital. Mr. Rolnick was not at fault in attributing The Invitation to the Dance to Beethoven. The error occurred during the editing process.
Concertonet.com apologizes to Mr. Rolnick and to our readers.




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