Only the big, the bold and the brave venture Bruckner.
Not every symphony orchestra dares approach the massive and mystical, sprawling yet subtle, essentially Wagnerian rhetoric of the unhappy Austrian master. The inherent technical demands are as daunting as the interpretive challenges.
Impatient modern audiences, moreover, don’t invariably relish sitting still for Bruckner’s romantic indulgences and developmental convolutions. Not everyone finds the lengthy route that leads to the ultimate cathartic cadence heavenly.
The San Diego Symphony, having endured all manner of fiscal and artistic crises, hadn’t attempted much Bruckner prior to Friday night, when Yoav Talmi programmed the mighty Seventh. An official spokesman admitted that he couldn’t recall a precedent. A check with the orchestra librarian revealed that this repertory hadn’t even been attempted by the orchestra since 1977.
Talmi, the new music director, obviously is no wimp. Bruckner happens to be one of his specialties. He rushed in where many a lesser conductor feared to tread, and emerged triumphant.
He proved that the San Diego Symphony, in its present incarnation, is a fine, responsive, virtuoso instrument. He played that instrument with poignant finesse.
Many conductors use Bruckner primarily as an excuse for muscle flexing and conspicuous perspiring. They revel in the extrovert gesture, piling climax upon climax. Above all, they make the music thunder.
Although the forces at his command--especially the brass--are not exactly overpowering, Talmi did not shirk the thunder when it was essential. However, he put it in perspective. That perspective focused, with good justification, on Bruckner’s lyricism.
The Israeli maestro knows a useful secret: If one performs heroic music with sensitivity, even with delicacy, the bombast will take care of itself. There is no need to stress the obvious, no advantage to making the grandiose sound vulgar.
Talmi’s beat is clear, his emotive vocabulary restrained. Under his stylish, subdued urging, the strings shimmered, the winds sang crisply and the brass declaimed with elegant point.
Using the Nowak edition, he sustained transparent textures, balanced the choirs with special tact and invariably savored melodic grace. Although he lingered at the most poignant melodic flights, he never let tension flag.
He invested Bruckner with the virtues of Schubert, analyzed the vast symphonic panorama as if it were chamber music. The 63 minutes passed quickly.
The attentive audience that nearly filled Copley Hall gave him an ovation. He deserved it.
As a prelude to Bruckner’s profundities, Talmi devoted the first half of the concert to the elegant charms of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Ida Levin invested the solo lines with sweet if somewhat wispy tone, and the orchestra provided deft accompaniment. This was a competent, enlightened performance.
The Bruckner was more than that.