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Weirdly applicable Halloween week fare from San Francisco Symphony – Seen and Heard Worldwide

United States Herrmann, Bartók, Gruber: Christopher Purves (baritone), San Francisco Symphony / Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor). Davies Symphony Corridor, San Francisco, 28.10.2020. (HS)

Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and Christopher Purves taking part in the kazoo in HK Gruber’s <i>Frankenstein</i> © Brittany Hosea-Small

Herrmann – Psycho: A Narrative for String Orchestra
Bartók – Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin
Gruber – Frankenstein!!

Music director Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Halloween-time program centered on music that, if it was not precisely scary, veered simply bizarre and offbeat sufficient to be eerie.

Carried out by the San Francisco Symphony in live shows main as much as the vacation, the point of interest was HK Gruber’s Frankenstein!! The title would possibly lead an viewers to anticipate a retelling of Mary Shelley’s landmark novel a few mad scientist’s try and assemble his personal human from spare components (and the following fallout). However no. It’s a puckishly orchestrated assortment of brief, sly, doggerel-like poems that at the beginning appear evenly amusing however conceal a sneaky punch of dread.

Except for one temporary verse that addresses Dr. Frankenstein and his monster (‘These lungs are from a prison, and the good mind as effectively’ is one key line), the brief poems deal with a variety of common figures, amongst them John Wayne, Goldfinger, Robinson Crusoe, Superman, Dracula (however as a lady) and a few pesky rodents.

Veteran British baritone Christopher Purves, whose latest roles embody Balstrode at Bavarian State Opera and Siegfried for Zurich Opera Home, intoned the poems like a demented youngsters’s storyteller, sometimes accompanying himself with slide whistles and different toy devices. Clad in black tie and black kilt, Purves alternately spoke and sang, veering from bass-like low notes to comedian falsettos.

The poems have been written in 1968 and translated into English by Harriet Watts from H. C. Artmann’s unique German for Gruber’s creative rating, which debuted in 1977. The massive orchestra added tongue-in-cheek colour, together with an exquisite crescendo and fadeout of eerily harmonized hoses whipped round by members of the orchestra, poppings of paper baggage as percussion and a surprisingly candy duet involving a solo trombone and Purves on kazoo. Occasional dissonances added punch to typically simple-minded tunes.

The opening Fanfare and Prologue set the tone, the mock majesty within the brass introducing a sing-song-y tune for the road, ‘little mouse, little mouse…how he nibbles at my eye’. One other verse makes use of repetition and a frantic accelerando to twist the road ‘just a little mi-ma monsterlet is dancing spherical our home’, as Purves relished the following chaos. Sexual undertones discovered their method into ’Superman’ and ‘Batman and Robin’, delivered straight-faced and with harmless music (at the least on the floor).

This was all an excessive amount of for the lady seated behind me at Friday night’s efficiency. A number of instances throughout the 35-minute piece she remarked loudly to her seat mate, ‘I’m strolling out of right here’. However, she stayed until the tip regardless of her threats. I believe Gruber would have liked it.

Varied non-musical components tied this work to the opposite objects on this system. The opener was Bernard Herrmann’s indelible rating to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, an allusion to the traditional 1931 horror movie Frankenstein which starred Boris Karloff. In between these two juicy objects got here Bela Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin, which had debuted in Germany solely 5 years earlier than the Frankenstein movie.

Salonen’s strategy to Herrmann’s expressive lushness and Bartók’s thorny however colourful music continued a pattern that has been obvious in earlier live shows this fall. Specifically, he appeared intent on revving issues up with pedal-to-the-metal buildups to huge orchestral climaxes.

He received a pleasant bounce to the rhythmic insistence of the opening music from Psycho whereas bringing out the sinister undertone that gave the movie rating its influence, as did the screeching violins (bear in mind the bathe scene?). Herrmann even reprises that close to the tip of the 15-minute suite. The orchestration’s weight and plentitude of dissonant colour made it a musically applicable companion to the Bartók.

Salonen dug into the clashing colours from Bartók’s flashy music for the lurid story of the ballet, during which a prostitute lures a sequence of males for her thug companions to rob and homicide. The music for the final one, a rich Chinese language determine who refuses to die till he consummates what he got here for, will get more and more agitated, and Salonen punched it big-time to a crashing end.

The lady behind me proved how efficient that really was. Because the lights got here up for intermission she opined, loudly, ‘This can be a horrible program’.

Harvey Steiman






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