San Francisco Symphony At 100, Blu-ray (2012)

San Francisco Symphony At 100, Blu-ray (2012) 

Performers: San Francisco Symphony/ Michael Tilson Thomas
Studio: SFS Media (6/12/12)
Video: Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1/ English: Dolby TrueHD 2.0, Both 96kHz, 16-bit audio
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional)Length: 2:26:30
Rating: *** 1/2 

A rousing concert disc marred by too much talking.

This disc documents a September, 2011 Centennial concert with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. The same concert was presented on PBS some years ago in a more complete form. More about that later.

As a concert recorded in high definition video and high resolution sound I have no complaints. It is well directed, well produced, and the musicians are in top form.

Sadly, I have some complaints about the formatting of the disc and the program. Each presented work is opened with comments by author Amy Tan. They are fine for one viewing, but she is hard to eliminate from subsequent viewings as her comments preceding each work are located at the chapter stops. It would be better to have had each musical presentation start at the chapter break, so as a result you either listen to her comments, or use the fast forward keys on your remote. It makes for a sloppy and frustrating experience.

I can’t fault the works played, or the excellent music on offer. The Billy the Kid Ballet Suite by Aaron Copland is played with exuberance and precision. The disc captures the tremendous dynamic range of the piece, aided by the superb acoustics of Davies Hall which excites the surround channels.

Itzhak Perlman is on hand for a grand performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor.  It’s a magical performance, and the microphone positions are just right to get a fine balance between Perlman and the orchestra.

Next up is a lively performance of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. No narration for this – we get a straight symphonic performance but it’s another composition well captured with excellent dynamics and deep bass from the percussion.

Closing out the concert is Short Ride in A Fast Machine by contemporary composer John Adams who was in attendance. The orchestra also put on a bit of a light show for the Adam’s piece. The audience may have liked it, I could have lived without it and I found it a distraction from Adams’ excellent music.

Tilson Thomas is a great addition to the San Francisco Orchestra. He’s been Music Director since 1995 and his exuberance and dedication remind one of Leonard Bernstein in his prime.  Although this disc mostly represents the PBS broadcast but leaves out a performance by Lang Lang. Perhaps some rights conflicts, but this disc is not a complete memoir of the concert. Extras on the disc include documentary vignettes tracing the Symphony’s history, and a plug for some other discs produced by SFS Media.

—Mel Martin

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