BALU PHOTOGRAPHY Fabio Luisi, current conductor of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, brought his new ensemble, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra to San Francisco’s Davies Hall for two nights of programming.
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra came calling Sunday evening at Davies Symphony Hall, introducing the first of two concerts presented by the San Francisco Symphony’s Great Performers series.
Founded in 1925, the Copenhagen-based ensemble hasn’t made frequent appearances in the Bay Area, and this program, part of a five-city California tour, attracted an enthusiastic audience. Yet much of the interest centered on the orchestra’s newly appointed music director, Fabio Luisi, who is approaching the end of his six-year tenure as principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
He didn’t disappoint. Luisi, who also serves as general music director of the Zurich Opera, is a precise, energetic conductor, and he led his Danish players in vibrant, dynamic performances throughout the program. (Bay Area audiences will have another chance to hear Luisi in action later this month; he returns April 27-29 to conduct the San Francisco Symphony orchestra in works by Schumann and Richard Strauss.)
Danish music framed Sunday’s concert – Carl Nielsen’s “Helios” opened the program, and Jacob Gade’s “Tango Jalousie” served as a vivacious encore. The bulk of the evening, through, was given over to works by Beethoven and Wagner: the former’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, “Eroica,” and the latter’s “Wesendonk Lieder.” In each work, Luisi proved effective in fusing music and drama.
In Beethoven’s score, performed after intermission, the conductor led a muscular, expansive reading, summoning big, surging fortes in the opening Allegro and eliciting shapely contributions from his players in the great funeral march of the second movement; here, the orchestra’s woodwinds sounded especially fine.
The Scherzo, bolstered by an excellent horn trio, was brisk and brilliantly articulated, and the finale rolled forth on bracing waves of sound.
Deborah Voigt was the soloist for Wagner’s five “Wesendonk” songs, which set five poems by Mathilde Wesendonk. Composed for voice and piano in 1857 (around the same time that Wagner was writing “Tristan und Isolde”), the songs were later orchestrated by Felix Mottl.
Voigt, who recently joined the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as a full-time member of the voice faculty, has sung Wagner’s operas on stages around the world, and she retains the gleaming tone and the crisp German diction for this music. If her voice has lost some of its bloom – she occasionally sounded effortful in the songs’ upper reaches – she negotiated the texts with poise and expressiveness. Luisi provided sensitive support, emphasizing the rich sonorities of the second song, “Stehe still!” (Stand still), and creating a tender, brooding atmosphere in “Im Treibhaus” (The Greenhouse.) The final song, “Träume” (Dreams) cast its wonted spell.
The program opened with Nielsen’s “Helios” Overture. Written in 1903, when the composer was in Greece, the score portrays the journey of the sun across the sky (Helios is Greek for the sun.) In Luisi’s hands, it made an arrestingly beautiful curtain-raiser, shimmering with the heat and luminosity of its setting and filling the hall with twelve minutes of radiant sound.
The evening’s surprise entry was the encore, a glamorous performance of Gade’s “Tango Jalousie.” Concertmaster Christina Aastrand played the opening cadenza of this popular showpiece, and Luisi conducted the Danish players with sultry shadings and considerable dramatic flair.
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FABIO LUISI AND THE DANISH NATIONAL ORCHESTRA
Performing with violinist Arabella Steinbacher
When: 8 p.m. April 3
Where: Davies Hall, 201 Van Ness, San Francisco
Tickets: $15-$99; 415-864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org