United States Ben-Haim, Mahler: Israel Philharmonic / Lahav Shani (conductor). Davies Symphony Corridor, San Francisco, 6.11.2022. (HS)
Paul Ben-Haim – Symphony No.1
Mahler – Symphony No.1 in D main
On its first American tour since conductor Lahav Shani changed longtime music director Zubin Mehta in 2020, the Israel Philharmonic re-introduced itself to San Francisco audiences with expansive works by Gustav Mahler and midcentury Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim. They delivered huge sound and a transparent understanding of the place the music desires to go, which resulted in an fulfilling night.
Shani, making his U.S. debut, has been related to the orchestra since 2013 as piano soloist, bassist and conductor. The present 10-city tour, which was postponed by the pandemic, started final week in southern California and concludes with stops in Miami on the Arsht Middle, Cleveland in Severance Corridor and New York at Carnegie Corridor.
A grueling schedule of day by day concert events might account for some unsteadiness that made their San Francisco efficiency a bit ragged across the edges. Nonetheless, Shani and the orchestra capitalized on the massive, memorable moments in each works.
Ben-Haim holds a pioneer’s place in Israel’s classical music historical past. European-born and skilled, he was a conducting assistant to Bruno Walter and Hans Knappenbusch in Germany earlier than emigrating to Palestine in 1933. Ben-Haim composed this First Symphony in 1940 for the nascent Palestine Symphony (which grew to become the Israel Philharmonic after statehood in 1948).
The 30-minute piece displays the composer’s signature Ernest Bloch-like Romanticism with tinges of Center Jap and Jewish musical tropes, notably within the lengthy, unique melodic line of the second motion. The outer actions journey in huge buildups to crashing climaxes. If all of it felt a bit disconnected, the culminations landed squarely.
There’s a Jewish thread operating by means of Mahler’s Symphony No.1 within the wry references to vernacular music, which have been among the many highlights of this efficiency. The massive fanfares and the solos all through the orchestra got here off nice. Nevertheless, quieter preludes and transitions – the sinews that join these muscle mass – not a lot.
The opening environment, for instance, was too loud, and it missed the thriller within the music’s ethereal portrait of nature. Shani’s regular tempos on this introductory part minimized what ought to have communicated a way of improvisation. The muted-trumpet fanfares offstage have been barely audible from my orchestra seat. However as soon as the primary themes arrived, all was effectively, with deft shadings of dynamics and a beautiful movement. Shani made this occur with a knack for coloring each tone and tempo.
The country, thumping Ländler of the Scherzo might have danced a bit too genteelly to get probably the most out of the distinction with the motion’s candy interludes, however all the pieces moved alongside well and centered on all the fitting components.
The gradual motion left the very best impression. Principal bass Brendan Kane received issues began with a solemn intoning of the minor-key ‘Frère Jacques’ tune, and it made its approach across the orchestra properly, the tread marked by timpani. Even higher, the transition to and execution of the Klezmer-influenced center part delivered all the colour and swagger one might need.
The chaotic opening of the finale injected the required boisterousness, and the music settled into Mahler’s extraordinary journey from pending annihilation to a way of hope and, lastly, triumphal fanfares and brass hymns. Shani’s pacing was particularly good.
Balances, as with the inaudible fanfares within the first motion, have been a bit off. When the seven French horn gamers stood up and raised the bells of their devices for that remaining descending scale, we missed what Mahler explicitly wished, ‘to drown out the remainder of the orchestra, even the trumpets’. The trumpets and trombones received this spherical.
The end was nonetheless thrilling sufficient to demand an encore, and Shani went again to Ben-Haim for that. Appropriately, it was the six-minute ‘Fanfare to Israel’ that dates from 1950. It opens with a brass fanfare after which begins a protracted construct as much as a triumphant climax, wedging in some Israeli-sounding tunes alongside the best way. A reprise of the previous few pages of the Mahler symphony may need been higher.