Sunday, October 9, 2011

LAPhil Live in HD Review: Mendelssohn "Like a Dark and Cold Wind"

The LAPhil Live in HD season returned to cinemas with a program of frequently played works by Mendelssohn. Conductor Gustavo Dudamel has been all over the news over the past week, being named "Musician of the Year" by Gramophone Magazine and with the announcement of two new music education with links to our side of the country.

This production looked markedly different from last season. There were many shots from within the orchestra; as if we were sitting in the string section, and many more close-ups of players. There was no host, and a host was not missed. The rehearsal footage alone made the event worth attending--Dudamel expressed fabulous insights into the Scottish symphony in particular.

The event opened with a dark and moody performance of the Hebrides Overture. Dudamel worked on the slower side and let lines surge and build with great skill. Given this context the famous clarinet statement of the second theme group in B major (with the editorial marking "tranquillo assai") seemed overly articulated and was played with a dotted 8th and 16th at the end of its first measure. Was this decision based on one of the new editions of the work? Still the work was a gorgeous and evocative way to open the event.

Dutch virtuoso Janine Jansen joined the orchestra as soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Mark Swed raved about her playing on Thursday evening. This particular performance did not come into the cinema as effectively as the performance he described. Jansen never seemed fully comfortable during the first movement and seemed not to explore the stillness and silences of the cadenza that she described in the preconcert interview footage. There were lovely chamber-like moments in the second movement where she brought out a vulnerable quality in the music, and the finale was fabulous from start to stop. For her encore she played the sarabande from Bach's second partita in D minor.

After intermission we heard significant insights from Dudamel and great rehearsal footage. "Its like a cold and dark [wind]," said Dudamel of the opening gesture of the symphony. "The structure is very classical," he said of the symphony in general, "but with a nostalgic and Romantic soul."

Laughter erupted several times in the orchestra as he described the image of a queen, "who goes to the gym" taking part in the massive victory celebration at the end of the finale. And Dudamel kept looking for edges that would project a sense of warfare.

In my cinema "Real Steel" was playing next door. Some of that fighting spilled into our space, but I swear that Dudamel was so much in command that I could be persuaded he had willed it to be so. Dudamel's vision of the piece worked. The explosive sound as the finale opened was memorable, and textures throughout were rich and well-balanced. It was a performance that was detailed and expressive.

The next LAPhil Live in HD will be Mahler 8 in February...but that seems too far away. I would have loved at least one other event between now and then.

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