OVERNIGHT REVIEW: A delectable feast for the L.A. Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Richard Goode, pianist

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466. Richard
Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra

Friday, October 28, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Tonight at 8 p.m.  and tomorrow at 2 p.m. (These programs add Gyrgy Kurtg‘s
Grabstein fr Stephan as the opening
work).

Information: www.laphil.com

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Conductors love thematic contrasts but there was more on
Gustavo Dudamel’s mind when he paired works by Mozart and Richard Strauss for
last night’s “Casual Friday” concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the first of
this weekend’s programs that mark Dudamel’s final appearances in Los Angeles
for the year 2011.

 

Dudamel believes that Mozart is good for an orchestra’s
health (“like eating a good salad,” he said during last night’s post-concert
discussion). That’s particularly true when his orchestra has spent most of this
month playing a steady diet of meaty pieces, including several premieres and,
in this case, had just returned from a well-received, two-concert appearance in
San Francisco.

 

The curly haired maestro balanced that high-protein intake
last night by joining with pianist Richard Goode for a jewel-like rendition of
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466, to open the evening. The 68-year-old
New York native has a well-known affinity for Mozart, and Dudamel and the
orchestra were willing collaborators for a thoroughly enjoyable performance. “I
was learning from Richard,” said Dudamel after the concert; he’s obviously a
Goode student (sorry!).

 

Mozart’s K. 466 concerto is, itself, a study in contrasts.
It made such an impression on Beethoven that the latter played it and wrote
cadenzas for the piece (Mozart wrote none for this work). Its influence can be
felt in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which — despite its number — was
actually the first one that Beethoven wrote, just a couple of year after Mozart
composed this piece.

 

Reflecting its D-minor key, the Mozart concerto’s outer
movements have a brooding, edgy quality while the second movement becomes a
lyrical, elegant bridge between the two, although it also has its own dramatic
measures.

 

Throughout the performance, Goode often seemed more part of
the ensemble than a soloist and his playing had an old-school charm, perhaps
reflecting one of his teachers, the legendary Rudolf Serkin. He also asked
Dudamel to move the winds forward to accentuate the back-and-forth weaving of
melodies between soloist and winds. As a complement, the strings produced
biting tones that provided the proper seasoning for this delectable salad.

 

Written in 1896, Also
Sprach Zarathustra
was the fourth of eight tone poems that Strauss
composed, and it certainly makes a full-bodied main course, especially
following Mozart (the tone poem is actually just three minutes longer than the
concerto).

 

As has been the case for most of this fall, Dudamel had all
the violins seated to his left with the violas on the far right; the contrasts
throughout the piece were audible. The nine basses were clustered at the back
right of the orchestra, giving added depth to their lines. The oversized
orchestra included seven French horns and two harpists and, of course, the
opening sections benefitted immensely from the Disney Hall organ.

 

Dudamel conducted the 33-minute work without a score and
with a pulsating sense of energy, beginning with the iconic two-minute first
movement, Sunrise, made famous as the
theme music for Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 motion picture 2001: A Space Odyssey. The three-note trumpet fanfare set a
majestic tone (I was struck throughout the evening by James Wilt’s sensitivity
in achieving various dynamic levels while playing those same three notes), Joseph
Pereira’s timpani strokes rang out gloriously, and Joanne Pearce Martin brought
the movement to a thunderous close on the organ; eat your heart out, New York
Philharmonic (Avery Fisher Hall gave up its pipe organ long ago).

 

There is, of course, 30 or so minutes of music beyond the
opening movement and it proved to be a fascinating half hour. Dudamel — who
said afterward that he had read the Nietzsche poem preparing for the
performance — kept the pedal to the metal for most of the evening and the
orchestra responded splendidly, with solo kudos going to Principal
Concertmaster Martin Chalifour; Ariana Ghez, oboe; Carrie Dennis, viola; and
Susan Babini, who served as principal cellist for the evening (presumably she’s
another of those auditioning for the orchestra’s vacant associate principal
position). At the pianissimo conclusion, Dudamel looked exhausted — no surprise
given the high-octane energy level poured into the performance.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

Unlike most “Casual Friday” programs, an orchestra member
didn’t introduce the evening, which began, instead, with the concerto. While
the stage was being reset for the Strauss, violinist Mitchell Newman tried to
fill the void but Disney Hall’s mediocre acoustics for spoken voice, the noise
of chairs moving around, and players coming onstage rendered much of what he
said unintelligible.

In response to a question after the performance, Dudamel
said of Nietzsche, “I’m not a philosopher and sometimes for me to think too
much is dangerous.” While acknowledging that he thought it was important for a
conductor to read the poem before conducting the piece, “sometimes when you
read too many words it harms the music,” he noted.

Hearing Also Sprach
Zarathustra
undergirded by the Disney Hall organ reminded me of what we’re
going to miss by having Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 performed in the Shrine
Auditorium. That hall has a large theater organ but a Shrine spokesperson
didn’t think it was playable, so presumably the Phil will be using some sort of
electronic instrument, instead.

The first Los Angeles Philharmonic performance of this
Mozart concerto was on January 24, 1926, with Walter Henry Rothwell conducting.
The soloist was Elinor Remick Warren,who wrote the chimes tune that was used at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to call people to their seats before concerts and
at intermission.

While Dudamel heads to Europe after Sunday’s concert, in
part to go on tour with his Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela,
guest conductors come to town. Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon
opens the parade, leading three concerts beginning next Friday morning. Pianist
Yuja Wang will be the soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (LINK). At
the end of the month, LAPO Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen returns for two
weeks.

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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