750 B Street, Downtown San Diego
Sometimes we’ve gotta eat our veggies after we have dessert. I’ve never tried it, but it’s basically what happened during the last half of the San Diego Symphony concert on Saturday night.
The first half of the concert was off-the-chain greatness. Rimsky-Korsakov and Khachaturian were colorful, brilliant, and exciting. The orchestra was full and strong — as if they’d been groomed on a high protein diet and were now sharing their muscles with us.
The Khachaturian Violin Concerto was of particular interest to me. Khachaturian got on with the Kremlin, more or less. Some look at it as a stain on Khachaturian’s record as an artist. However, his music is always well received by audiences.
He wrote great stuff. We may be tempted to call it propaganda but what in the world do San Diegans in 2014 know about the circumstances of mid-century Soviet life? Furthermore, does it even matter at this point?
I think not. Khachaturian is great, his music is great and the performance on Saturday was great. I, for one, don’t subscribe to judging music based on the politics of the past.
American violinist Philippe Quint played a magnificent performance. The solo violin part was about as good as it gets for a soloist, I would imagine. Khachaturian's music was forceful, playful, full of pathos, and appealing to both audience and musicians.
Now we come to eating our veggies. The second half of the concert was Haydn’s Mass in Time of War with the master chorale and a quartet of soloists with sparkling resumes. Sounds like it should be amazing.
The fact of the matter is that it was a Haydn mass following the colors and swirls of two of the great orchestration wizards in Rimsky and Khachaturian. About midway through the Haydn piece I wanted to slash my wrists in order to get some color.
Was the performance bad? No, of course not.
The soloists were overqualified for this piece because there really weren’t any solos. The tenor was sick and was replaced by the director of the master chorale. Was he up to the task? Yes, yes he was because the music isn’t that challenging. If this had been The Lord Nelson Mass then the soloists would have been of more interest.
That’s about all there is to say about the quartet of soloists. I could get all righteous and complain about using a local quartet next time the music is this vanilla but everyone values a bio over giving local singers a chance.
This piece of music is middle of the road. It’s not a pedestrian meandering down the sidewalk but it’s not anywhere close to flying down the fast lane and breaking the law. It was a fine performance of a piece of music that needs to be performed to keep us honest. We can’t live on refined sugar alone.