By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Lionel Bringuier was just 20 years old when Esa-Pekka Salonen, at the time the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director, invited the French teenager to join the Phil’s staff as assistant conductor. When Gustavo Dudamel took over the LAPO reins, Bringuier remained, first as associate conductor and then resident conductor, and, in May 2010, made headlines when he substituted for Dudamel midway through a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 after Dudamel injured himself.
Since he came to Los Angeles six years ago, Bringuier’s responsibilities with the Phil have grown as he has matured. He has also made orchestra and opera debuts all over the world, and in two years he will become music director of Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra. So this weekend’s concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall were a leave-taking for Bringuier, at least from official LAPO responsibilities, and — perhaps not surprisingly — he chose as his final concerts an all-French program.
Bringuier continues to cut an elegant picture on the podium and in this program (heard Sunday afternoon) he again got the orchestra to deliver lean, yet luxurious sounds in all four pieces on the agenda. He opened with something of an oddity: Les offrandes outbliées — the first work played by an orchestra from 22-year-old Olivier Messiaen, a piece with three movements that reflect the composer’s deep Roman Catholic faith. The long, slow string sections of the first two sections (The Cross and The Eucharist) were in sharp contrast to the fierce accented chords of The Sin, a section that sounded very much like Stravinsky in its angular makeup. The shimmering chords dying away at the end of the 13-minute piece created a heavenly aura and Bringuier held the audience spellbound for several seconds of silence (except for several loud coughers).
After intermission came two Ravel pieces, each of which would normally conclude a program: Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. and La Valse. The former unfolded majestically, while the latter — with its weird take on 19th century Viennese waltzes — concluded with fiery gusto that, predictably, brought forth a standing ovation. The orchestra, as it always does for Bringuier, played at its highest levels, and Bringuier singled out and applauded Catherine Ransom Karoly for her flute solos in Daphnis.
Bringuier’s countryman, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, was the soloist in Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5, which is subtitled Egyptian because of the second movement’s musical allusions to the music of that country. As usual, Thibaudet displayed dazzling technique and even managed to find time to exhibit sublime musicality during what was an extraordinarily fast rendition of the composer’s final piano concerto. The entire performance was much too fast for my liking, although no one could help but being swept up in the excitement.
• The concerto’s first LAPO performance was on March 6, 1975, with Sidney Harth — the orchestra’s concertmaster at the time — conducting and Lorin Hollander as soloist. As it happens, I was at that performance in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
• Thibaudet sat in the audience to hear the second half of the program. Nice touch.
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.