(…) The result was a nearly all-French extravaganza that elicited muscular and brilliantly shaped performances from both conductor and orchestra, a wondrous display that began with works by Berlioz, Saint-Saëns and Roussel. (…) His conducting is fluid and strong, and most of his attention seems to go toward handling the larger elements of a score – organizing the major structural points of form, balancing the ensemble and channeling the rhythmic sweep of a performance. Yet in all of this, none of the specifics falls by the wayside.(…) After intermission, the Symphonic Fragments from Roussel’s ballet “The Spider’s Feast” proved equally arresting, with plenty of narrative detail and an evocative solo from principal flutist Tim Day. And the Stravinsky sounded at once reflective and theatrically vivid, from the ominous murmurings of the opening through the explosive “Infernal Dance” to the sunny conclusion, its dynamic shadings impeccably controlled.

Read the whole review on San Francisco Chronicle here

Joshua Kosman San Francisco Chronicle

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French conductor Stéphane Denève returned to the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in Davies Symphony Hall for the first of four subscription concerts.(…) Denève’s approach as a conductor was almost one of “playing” the orchestra, rather in the manner that a skilled organist negotiates that abundance of keyboards and stop controls.  The result was an rich spectacle of sonorities guaranteed to get the juices flowing for the rest of the program.(…) Denève was impeccable in keeping all of his resources under control.  Most impressive was his ability to keep the pianissimo passages to an almost inaudible level, creating an effect of intense suspense as one wondered just when more explicit thematic declarations would emerge.

Read the whole review on SF Classical Music Examiner here

Stephen Smoilar SF Classical Music Examiner

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Stephane Deneve guest-conducted the San Francisco Symphony this week. I caught the last performance of his mostly-French program and thought he hit a grand slam, performance-wise, whatever you might happen to think of the works he conducted. He got an exceptionally transparent and layered sound from the orchestra, even in the loudest work on the program, Stravinsky’s 1919 Suite from The Firebird, and he communicated a great sense of the ebb and flow of the music. Rubato, yes! He’s a regular at the BSO, which has past strong connections to French music. They should be considering him as a possible music director (and maybe we should, too, in the years to come).(…) Next up was a genuine rarity, Albert Roussel’s Symphonic Fragments from The Spider’s Feast. I rather think almost everything by Roussel is a rarity in the US, but after hearing this piece, I’m going to run off and pick up a few CDs from Deneve’s ongoing Roussel cycle on Naxos. It is absolutely gorgeous, a lush thing of gossamer and moonlight – and I practically jumped out of my seat when, out of the gossamer came a motif from Psycho. I guess Roussel got there first! The orchestra sounded especially great in this work.

Not that there was anything wrong in how they sounded in the Firebird suite, which I expect they can play more or less in their sleep. But it was a terrific performance, lush and forceful at the same time; graceful and tender in the Lullaby, majestic at the close. A big hand for Robert Ward’s handling of the big theme in the last movement.

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Lisa Hirsch Iron Tongue of Midnight Blog

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Mardi Gras, Nubian arabesques, garden insects, enchantments. All were great subjects for four evocative works of orchestral wizardry at Thursday afternoon’s San Francisco Symphony concert, deftly conducted by Stéphane Denève and superbly performed. (…) Denève, who first conducted here three years ago, has been described as a champion of French music. He has a knack for nuance and the wherewithal to exploit the full dynamic range of the orchestra at his command, and he did so at every turn to nice effect, with his James Levine-like mop of hair bobbing authoritatively.(…) Audience response was warmest for the concluding Stravinsky.(…) All in all a pleasant, non-toxic afternoon, like alcohol-free champagne.

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Jeff Dunn San Francisco Classical Voice

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If you enjoy the sparkle, the fragrances, the contours and colors of “the French school,” this program, which repeats through Sunday, is a no-brainer.(…) Denève, a figure of rising note on the international circuit and a product of the Paris Conservatory — as is Thibaudet, as was Saint-Saëns. It’s so very French, this program, and yet it’s ultimate star — surprise! — is a Russian: Igor Stravinsky, whose “Firebird” captured Parisian audiences a century ago with its dazzle, its colors and magical effects, at once embodying Russian exotica and French chic.(…) Thursday’s performance was one of elegant contours in high definition, with gleaming atmospherics and a consistently shapely flow. It closed the concert, outshining the rest of a good program.(…) The program began two hours earlier with Hector Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival” Overture. This piece, too, felt authentic: lilting rhythms, with perfect pizzicato accompaniment to the gorgeous English horn melody, played by Russ deLuna. There’s a certain French idiosyncrasy about Berlioz, and here it was in full flavor: one imagined the composer as a boy in the French countryside, discovering music through his encounters with rural bands and flute-playing shepherds.

Read the whole review on San Jose Mercury News here

Richard Scheinin San Jose Mercury News

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