There is always something a little peculiar about opening week at the San Francisco Symphony. Audiences have been away for the summer and are distractible. The orchestra may sound a bit less used to itself than usual. Sunlight in the lobby is still too bright for anyone to settle down. And programming commonly amounts either to a Gala smorgasbord or a visit to Denny’s, but seldom manages subtlety for musical gourmets. No different this year, but with a few wacky touches from the peanut gallery — about which more in a moment.
Dandies and philosophers. I hate the use of the word “warhorse” to describe beloved music that is taxed by being overly familiar. But almost nobody refers to the Bruch violin concerto in any other way. It’s a frayed Victorian valentine, relying on luscious melody, the scent of heliotrope, and moonlight over the Tyrol as its claim to fame. The young French violinist Renaud Capuçon accepted this without a blush or smirk. He was determined to give a reading as gorgeously romantic as taste would allow. His success centered on a honeyed but never syrupy tone. More than that, he knew how to blend into the orchestral strings, which served not to drown him out but to amplify his sound. (Here I think Capuçon was taking advantage of the three years when he served as first among equals as concertmaster of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra.)