San Francisco Symphony Orchestra-1 - Usher Hall Series

Edinburgh Festival review
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Yefim Bronfman (piano); San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas (Conductor)

This first of two concerts by a renowned U.S. orchestra fell somewhat short of general expectations. The programme outlined had all the signs of a showcase design, short pieces by American composers to start followed by demanding piano concerto and then a symphony.

The sheer size of the orchestra assembled on the platform ramped up expectations and the resonant introduction of Copland's Fanfare was a good omen.

The Andante adapted from Seeger's String Quartet, with its folk music associations was easy on the ear and the rhythmic insistence pervading Adams' Short ride was compelling.

The three pieces showed the various strengths of the orchestra -- the Fanfare for brass and percussion, Andante for strings, and Short ride the complete orchestra.

It's a pity that the numerical strength of the orchestra was diminished immediately by reorganisation of the platform to bring the piano for the Prokofiev concerto centre stage.

The reduction in the string section, particularly double bass and cellos, was noticeable where the concerto needed more emphatic lower tones.

The concerto itself is something of a physical work-out for the pianist.

Bronfman showed signs of strain at the sheer effort required by rapid rushes to and fro on the keyboard and the volume of sound produced. The slower pace in the finale added a touch of beauty to what was a dazzling performance. (One keen listener commented:"That was a thumping good performance. It's a pity the orchestra couldn't cope with his virtuosity".)

After the interval the orchestra was restored to full strength for Tchaikovsky's First Symphony. They played with precision -- balanced and coherent in the tranquil allegro of the first movement, touching and gloomy in the second, almost lilting at times in the Scherzo, lugubrious -- the composer's own word -- incisive, and powerful in the finale.

There wasn't an obtrusive false note or missed beat. Technical perfection was there but somehow the performance lacked the almost mystical, emotional effect envisaged by Tchaikovsky's "Winter Daydreams" title.


Aaron Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man; Ruth Crawford Seeger: Andante for strings; John Adams: Short ride in a fast machine; Prokofiev: Piano concerto No.3; Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.1

© Iain Gilmour 30 August 2007. First published on