Those who follow the musical peregrinations of the San Diego Symphony on a weekly basis must be sorely tempted to ask, “Will the real San Diego Symphony please stand!” Each week, a new guest conductor seems to conjure a different orchestra--each with its own strengths and weaknesses--out of the same musical ensemble.
Bernhard Klee, the German maestro who made a favorable impression during his appearances with the orchestra last season, deserves a vote of thanks for showing what a solid orchestra this local band might be under the right leadership. Thursday night at Symphony Hall, Klee’s authoritative but genial direction elicited from the orchestra the most convincing ensemble playing heard this season.
Brahms’ Fourth Symphony proved to be a winning tour de force, a determined but spirited march over familiar territory. Klee found in this Brahms no quirky novelties, only a renewed vigor that amply respected the symphony’s classical boundaries. The orchestra has seldom sounded as radiant as in the glowing second movement, giving Klee the subtle phrasing and shapely balances he requested. In the finale, the thematic variations passed from section to section with the grace of a baton in the hands of a crack relay team.
Guest soloist Christiane Edinger, another welcome German import, was the star of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. She infused her solo with a lush, lyrical quality that sometimes seemed incongruous to Berg’s astringent idiom. Nevertheless, she caught the concerto’s essentially mystical thrust and projected her conviction about the beauty of the line to an unreceptive audience.
It is sad to report that a classic work, one that has been part of the repertory for more than 50 years, was so coolly received here. Some patrons indulged in audible grumbles, adding a rude ostinato accompaniment to the concerto. For those whose minds were not closed, the performance was a sensitive portrayal of this complex elegy. Klee left no detail unattended; his evident sympathy for Berg’s idiom and unusual musical architecture underscored this conductor’s insightful, analytical approach to his task. Yet there was nothing cold about either his manner or the results.
Although Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings was written in the same year that Berg’s Violin Concerto was premiered, Barber’s indulgent Romanticism belongs to another world. The orchestra gave the piece a respectable reading, with laudable warmth and breadth from the cello section, but the “Adagio,” which was promoted as the theme music from “Platoon,” did not set the stage well for the Berg concerto. It lulled into a complacent reverie musical minds that needed to be stimulated to acute receptivity.