In general, I’m not a happy clappy person. I’ll applaud a great performance, for sure, but I tend to be more polite with my appreciation instead of exuberant. It’s a personal flaw, but I’m working on it.
However, on Saturday night at the Mainly Mozart concert I was thrust out of my seat by the invisible hand of Camille Saint-Saëns. The moment his Piano Concerto No. 2 ended I was launched out of my seat and found myself shouting a Bravo (!).
Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 2
Behzod Abduraimov plays Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 2
The truth of the matter is that I was looking forward to jumping up and clapping. I had wanted to sound my bravo-yawp multiple times during the performance by pianist Adam Neiman, conductor Michael Francis, and the festival orchestra.
I found myself becoming frustrated that decorum kept me in my seat with my mouth closed. This was, by far, the best performance of a concerto of any type that I have ever heard.
The piece felt as though it had the gas pedal floored from start to finish. That is not to say that it lacked refinement but rather that the momentum of the music swept the audience away as Adam Neiman splintered the concert grand into a hundred-thousand little pieces.
Neiman encored the Saint-Saëns with Chopin. The solar storm of Saint-Saëns was eclipsed by the lyricism of Chopin's sentimentality.
The second half of the concert was Mozart’s Mass in C minor: Orphanage. The San Diego Master Chorale joined the festival orchestra and proceeded to do what they do. I don’t enjoy writing about poor chorale singing but I will do it nonetheless.
One of the issues with the Master Chorale is in the vowels. If just one singer spaces out and lets an impure vowel creep into a Latin mass, the effect is glaring and obvious. The tuning goes to hell and it destroys any elegance the performance might have contained otherwise. The explosive quality of their initial consonants also taints the elegance of Mozart's music.
The excellence of the orchestra only serves to highlight the ordinary quality of the chorus. This discrepancy makes the performance feel half-baked and my response is always lukewarm.
Even so, the stature of the Saint-Saëns piano concerto was of such significance that the chorale singing didn’t matter. This was one of the best concerts of the year in San Diego.