Dy­namic duo gives Sym­phony a charge

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT - By Joshua Kos­man Joshua Kos­man is The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle’s mu­sic critic. Email: jkos­man@ sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @JoshuaKos­man

Not all the su­per­heroes are on­screen at the cine­plex these days, no mat­ter how much it may seem like it as you scan the arts and en­ter­tain­ment sec­tion. In Davies Sym­phony Hall on Thurs­day af­ter­noon, Oct. 11, con­duc­tor Man­fred Ho­neck and the San Fran­cisco Sym­phony, with a ready as­sist from the Nor­we­gian cel­list Truls Mørk, put on a lit­tle show of hero­ism all their own. The demon­stra­tion was twofold. Dur­ing the con­cert’s meaty first half, Mørk and the orches­tra faced down the pit­falls of a po­ten­tially prob­lem­atic piece, Prokofiev’s late Sin­fo­nia Con­cer­tante, draw­ing out all its con­sid­er­able splen­dors with­out get­ting side­tracked by its equally daunt­ing flaws.

Then af­ter in­ter­mis­sion, Ho­neck — the Aus­trian con­duc­tor who cur­rently leads the Pitts­burgh Sym­phony and (for all we know) may be in the run­ning to suc­ceed Michael Til­son Thomas af­ter he steps down in 2020 — guided the orches­tra through a su­perbly force­ful and weighty ac­count of Dvorák’s Sym­phony No. 8.

The com­mon thread was the that vein ran through of mus­cu­lar the en­tire bold­ness pro­gram, bring­ing brawn to even the most lyri­cal pas­sages and a spirit of can-do de­ter­mi­na­tion to the pro­gram over­all. Like a su­per­hero movie, this isn’t the kind of ap­proach one would want as an ex­clu­sive diet, but it cer­tainly packs a re­fresh­ing punch. Mørk’s ap­pear­ance marked the 57-year-old artist’s as­ton­ish­ingly over­due Sym­phony de­but and served as a re­minder of just how much lo­cal au­di­ences have been miss­ing. (And not just lo­cal au­di­ences — Mørk was side­lined for sev­eral years by health prob­lems that seem to have only re­cently abated.) He’s an in­stru­men­tal­ist of both en­ergy and sub­tlety, with a vig­or­ous ap­proach and a gift for com­bin­ing in­ti­mate ex­pres­sive­ness with a cer­tain gritty ur­gency. Aside from some squishy in­to­na­tion in the up­per reg­is­ter, tech­ni­cal chal­lenges seem to hold no ter­rors for him, and he showed his abil­ity to bring the po­ten­tial sprawl of the Prokofiev into crisp fo­cus. It’s a piece that calls for all those tools. Writ­ten in 1950 for the young Mstislav Rostropovich, the Sin­fo­nia Con­cer­tante (or Sym­phony-Con­certo) re­cy­cles ma­te­rial from the com­poser’s Cello Con­certo of 20 years ear­lier. The trans­for­ma­tion was a mixed bless­ing; the new piece shows the im­print of Rostropovich’s ge­nius in its tech­ni­cal bravura and emo­tional warmth, but it also tends to me­an­der and (like much of Prokofiev’s late mu­sic) can sound pal­lid and dif­fuse with­out the proper care. Mørk and Ho­neck col­lab­o­rated to make the best pos­si­ble case for the mu­sic. In the enor­mous, mul­ti­fold first move­ment, they stitched to­gether the var­i­ous para­graphs so that they flowed to­gether with, if not log­i­cal co­her­ence, at least a Scheherazade-like nar­ra­tive pull. Mørk dis­patched the big ca­den­zas beau­ti­fully, giv­ing their full­bod­ied chords and in­tri­cately wrought blus­ter a show of force, and brought lyri­cal grace to the work’s melodic in­ter­ludes. In the Dvorák, Ho­neck wasted no time in demon­strat­ing the kind of clean, coiled power he could bring to this reper­toire. The first two move­ments were both im­bued with im­pec­ca­bly con­trolled heft, es­pe­cially from the strings; not even a mid­stream break af­ter the sec­ond move­ment to deal with a pa­tron’s faulty hear­ing aid could im­pede the gal­vanic flow of the per­for­mance. The fi­nale, launched by trum­peter Mark Inouye with a blaz­ing ini­tial fan­fare, felt like a sum­ming-up of the en­tire con­cert.

Felix Broede

Pitts­burgh’s Man­fred Ho­neck was the guest con­duc­tor.

Johs Boe

Truls Mørk played Sin­fo­nia Con­cer­tante by Prokofiev.

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