Pablo Heras-Casado Conducts San Francisco Symphony (Review)

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday October 24, 2016 - 03:25:00 PM

Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado returned to the San Francisco Symphony in four concerts, October 19-22, in works by Mozart, Schumann and Dvorák. Along with Gustavo Dudamel and Susanna Mälkki, Pablo Hereras-Casado is one of the young conductors most in demand internationally. Currently, he leads the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York. A charismatic figure, Heras-Casado conducts with energetic flair, eschewing a baton and leading with vigorous arms, expressive hands, and athletic body.  

Opening the program was Mozart’s 29th Symphony in A Major, K. 201. This work, composed by the 18 year-old Mozart, is generally considered the finest of his Salzburg symphonies. I have loved it ever since listening in 1966 to a recording led by Sir John Barbirolli, who tore through it at whirlwind pace. Heras-Casado didn’t quite equal Barbirolli’s speed-demon fervor, but he led a brisk rendition, highlighting Mozart’s newfound mastery of loud/soft dynamics throughout. In the Andante, Mozart made expressive use of the oboe. The humorous Menuetto then led into the frenetic finale, full of color and verve as the orchestra responded to Heras-Casado’s conducting.  

Next came Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor of 1850 with Alisa Weilerstein as soloist. Abounding in sumptuous melodies, this work’s three movements are played without a pause. Weilerstein, as usual, offered a vigorous performance, her tone burnished in the low range though occasionally brittle up top. Weilerstein’s cello fairly sang the achingly beautiful melodies Schumann wrote for this instrument, and Heras-Casado’s conducting brought out the vivid interplay between cello and orchestra. Near the work’s end, Weilerstein played a brief accompanied cadenza composed by Schumann.  

After intermission the orchestra performed Dvorák’s 7th Symphony in D minor. This is a work of tragic grandeur, brooding and dark, yet also heroic. The opening is dramatic, with horns, timpani and basses sounding a somber tone, followed by violas and cellos deepening the drama. Midway through the first movement is a luscious warbling of woodwinds. In the Adagio, the oboe features prominently, announcing a lovely melody that is quickly picked up by strings and horns. The Scherzo abounds in rhythmic complexity, and the trio offers a moment of relaxation before this movement ends with a bang. The finale was fiery, with liberal use of brass, woodwinds, and timpani, as Heras-Casado energetically led the orchestra in bringing this Dvorák 7th Symphony to a rousing finish.