Monday, June 6, 2011

Review of LA Phil Live in HD; Brahms at the Cinema

The Los Angeles Philharmonic finished the third of its three live broadcasts into theaters across America and Canada with an unusual program of late Brahms--the Double Concerto paired with the fourth symphony. This was an event where solid and inspired musicianship was contrasted with an awkward presentation that was a step back from either of the two earlier broadcasts.

First the music. Cellist Gautier Capuçon and his older brother, violinist Renaud Capuçon joined the orchestra as soloists in the Double Concerto. They lit up the place.

They have the kind of ensemble that you could only acquire by growing up together, and this was of value in a work where the soloists are often called upon to finish one another's thoughts. But what struck me as I listened was the differences in artistic personality between these two siblings. Gautier plays with a kind of reckless abandon, fierce and always on the edge. Renaud seeks the Apollonian, as at that wonderful passage in the recapitulation where he played the famous "Viotti" theme in a sweet and crystalline A major.

They returned for an encore--the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia--which they played with breathtaking precision. Though this work is commonly used as a encore after the double concerto, in this case it allowed us to anticipate the final movement of the Brahms fourth in advance.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel took a very classical approach to the opening two movements of the fourth symphony with serene gestures and delicate balances. He led the shaping into the coda and then let us hear "Brahms Unbound."

During the intermission there was a segment with rehearsal footage. The orchestra was working on the second movement where the solo horn restates the opening motive 8-bars after rehearsal [A]. Dudamel stopped the ensemble several time looking for the best sound of the pizzicato strings that support the texture. He wanted the notes to sing. Finally he asked them for "pizzicato sostenuto." There was a warmer and more human sound that opened up when they played the passage.

It was a great insight into the way Dudamel rehearses. I think that the strings could have used the concept for all the pizz playing in this movement--it would have charged the support system for the oscillating tunes that seduce us throughout the movement.

The third movement marked a turning point in Dudamel's conception of the symphony. From here to the end he pulled it out of the box.

The fourth movement held together as an inspired unfolding, and the famous flute solo in the 12th variation was spellbinding. The trombone chorale that concludes this section set in 3/2 meter was also attractive, and this central world, where Brahms reveals a deeply personal outlook, was moving.

Great as the music was in this event, the production was often lacking.

I am a fan of John Lithgow, but wow, he was awkward when he wasn't obtrusive. His dialog was a series of trite interjections. When the Capuçon brothers returned from their encore he said, "Too bad you couldn't have played it faster, huh, huh, huh." Yeah, good one. We didn't see Lithgow trip on Gautier's endpin but Lithgow told us about it anyway. He also asked Renaud if he could touch his violin. Then he did. Really.

The production has continued its idea of reading text messages from selected viewers and addressing them to these great musicians. Banal, again. This segment is standing proof that just because something is technologically possible doesn't mean it is a good idea.

La Phil's President and CEO Deborah Borda was interviewed. She announced "big plans for the future" of these broadcasts, but had no details. None. Here we were, assembled--an audience that has purchased tickets and attended. It was a mistake to not make at least some announcement of what the new season would bring. A segment like this was of no use. None. Give us more time in orchestral rehearsal; give us more conversation with Dudamel about the music.

Let's hope there is an announcement about the new season in the near future. Let's hope that the productions are no longer this tedious. With music this great, anything less is unfair.

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