Friday evening's San Antonio Symphony concert, at the magnificently ornate Majestic Theatre in downtown San Antonio, was part of the citywide Brahms Festival. Gregory Sullivan Isaacs has previously reviewed two of these concerts, here and here, and as he has aptly pointed out, the concept is a fine one. Friday's concert, though a bit lacking in places, did highlight two of the composer's major works, and added substantial weight to the already substantive festival.
The audience for Friday's concert was large and delightfully diverse—some concertgoers were dressed for a more formal evening out, while others were attired in T-shirts and even the occasional baseball cap. A few attendees were young people wearing badges identifying them as participants in the Texas Music Educators' Convention taking place this weekend in San Antonio. They must have been taking advantage of the $8 student tickets the symphony offers, a wonderful gesture that helps build arts supporters in the next generation.
Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing began the concert with a few minutes of explanatory remarks, which seems to be a growing trend. He then launched into Brahms' Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77, with soloist Vadim Gluzman, for the first half of the program.
Gluzman produces a crystalline tone and has near-absolute technical mastery, both qualities necessary to approach a concerto such as the Brahms. In the first movement particularly, however, he seemed to clip the ends of phrases in the more lyrical passages—he was perhaps in a bit too much of a hurry to get on to the next thing.
In the second movement, the lovely and well-known oboe solo could have had a bit more liquid tone, although the supporting winds, including flute, bassoon, and horn, rounded out the passage nicely. Gluzman was able to produce an astonishing amount of intensity in this movement without ever compressing his sound.
Much of this is attributable to his own technique, while some of it is no doubt due to the qualities of his instrument. He plays a 1690 Stradivarius that once belonged to Leopold Auer. This instrument also seems to have a particularly remarkable tone in the lower and middle registers. This, coupled with Gluzman's abilities, enables him to achieve a wide range of tone colors and a creamy richness of sound in lyrical passages in those registers.
Brahms' Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90, comprised the second half of Friday's program. Lang-Lessing chose to conduct without a score. The orchestra's performance of this piece seemed to pick up steam as it progressed, becoming increasingly exciting. The first movement was an allegro con brio without quite enough brio, while the second movement was an andante perhaps best described as "nice."
The beautiful third movement, which should be the highlight of this symphony, had some beautifully sensitive phrasing in the strings, but included some phrasing issues in the winds—phrase ends too often just stopped instead of rounding nicely. By the fourth movement, however, the orchestra sounded truly exciting. The allegro was appropriately speedy, not dragging or heavy as so often happens in this particular symphony, so the concert ended on a great note, literally.
Impressively, the San Antonio Symphony and Vadim Gluzman are both performing a different program Saturday night—Gluzman will join cellist Jian Wang in a performance of the Brahms Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op. 102, and the orchestra will play the last of the composer's four symphonies, the Op. 98 in E minor. Additionally, Gluzman was scheduled to have performed in a chamber music concert of Brahms' works on Thursday evening. That is a lot of Brahms for one man—and one orchestra and one city—in one week. But the audiences were there supporting them all.
San Antonio's commitment to the arts is inspiring. Let's hope Dallas or Fort Worth will have the insight to follow suit with a similar festival in the years to come.