One of the more memorable San Francisco concerts I have attended offered the following fare: Prokofieff's First Violin Concerto with Nigel Kennedy, and the Symphony #39 of Mozart. Guest conductor Valery Gergiev made a superb debut with the orchestra. Both works were infused with such élan that I was compelled to assist him with some surreptitious conducting of my own. The Prokofieff came off with diabolical force. The Mozart – and I am not a devotee (never saw Amadeus, if that signifies cult membership) – was hypnotically paced, the finale light and swift as a magic carpet.
Günter Wand, also performing live, does not create that degree of excitement. I suppose I shouldn't hold him to a standard that might be sullied by extra-musical considerations. But I will. (I could just as well have a "perfect" night in front of the stereo as at Davies Symphony hall.)
Spiritual failings aside, Wand's Mozart has much to offer. His readings emphasize unity; the themes ebb and flow in temperate cycles, like the tides of an inland sea. The first movement of K. 543, in particular, is inscribed with a gentle, narcotic sameness, so that the theme and recapitulation telescope. It's an unconscious homecoming on the listener's part. In both symphonies I find it difficult to latch onto any moment where Wand and the orchestra soar.
The sound balance offers a front row seat in the hall, with tip of the hat to the strings. Throughout the performance, the audience does not utter a sound. A performance of quality, but there are others.
Copyright © 1997, Robert J. Sullivan