Yes, the fall concert season must really be rolling if one can do that. And so I did. From the ridiculous to the sublime, in roughly that order ...
Saturday, South Valley Symphony. Bargain-basement community orchestra that plays at a 2-year college on the far side of Gilroy. I went all the way down there for the opportunity to hear Tchaikovsky's First, which doesn't come one's way very often. Parts of it were tolerable, especially the slow movement which had more melodic effect than some professional performances. Good job by 16-year-old pianist Henry Smolen on the Saint-Saëns Second Concerto. He couldn't do light and fleeting, which this concerto really needs, but he didn't drag or sludge for an instant.
Sunday, Saratoga Symphony. But this is the amateur group that sits at the true bottom of the local barrel. I've heard them before, but I still might go if it's something enticing, though I'll barely recognize it. This time they cheerfully and genially massacred Nielsen's Second, though they did quite decently with some dances by Grieg (including the one that Allan Sherman lifted "I Can't Dance" from), and a gaseous clarinet concerto by the sub-Mozartean Bernhard Crussell, with, again, a competent soloist, Adam Pease. Apparently kicked out of their Saratoga ecclesiastical venue, they're now playing in a tiny church in Cupertino.
Monday, London Philharmonic Orchestra. On to the professionals. Visiting orchestra at Davies in the City, which I couldn't resist for the program of Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody and Shostakovich's Eighth. Led by Vladimir Jurowski, they took a crisp, jaunty way through the Rhapsody, with soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet contributing punchy thumps. The Shostakovich was less chipper: the long adagios meandered listlessly, while the climaxes exploded. I've heard this symphony played more interestingly, but never louder. Clear, cool platforms of sound from the orchestra, though. A buzzing piece of soundscape by Magnus Lindberg completed the program.
Tuesday, Harmony for Humanity. Stanford's annual Daniel Pearl memorial concert, in honor of the journalist murdered in Pakistan in 2002 - he was a Stanford grad and music-lover. A student ensemble with the members of the St. Lawrence Quartet as section leaders played a Telemann oboe concerto and a Bach cantata. Memorial Church's echoing acoustics were fine for the strings and oboeist James Austin Smith, not so good for baritone Kenneth Goodson. In between, St. Lawrence cellist Chris Costanza played a Bach suite from down on the main floor, where most of the audience couldn't see him or, as it turned out, hear him.
Wednesday, San Francisco Symphony. Thin audience for a program of good stuff from the 1930s. It wasn't until I got there that I remembered that I'd heard guest conductor Stéphane Denève lead the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances before, with the LA Phil six years ago. I didn't like his technique of abrupt and erratic tempo changes much better this time, though the orchestra sounded great. Britten's Violin Concerto I hadn't known, so I can't say what Denève did to it, though the weird orchestration was again fascinating, and soloist Isabelle Faust kept on top of everything. Denève led the Barber Adagio as if to show that the music had been proceeding inaudibly for quite some time before the piece started, and continued after its conclusion also.