By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Mozart: Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro; Posthorn Serenade
Vasks: Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra (Distant Light) — Alina Pogostkina, violin)
Thursday, May 10, 2012 • Walt Disney Concert Hall
Next performances: • Tomorrow at 8:00 p.m.
• May 25 at 8 p.m. (Casual Friday concert)
Mozart: Exsultate Jubilate (Kiera Duffy, soprano); Posthorn Serenade
• May 27 at 2 p.m.
Mozart: Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro; Exsultate Jubilate (Kiera Duffy, soprano); Posthorn Serenade;
From the moment the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Philharmonic season was announced last year, the month of May figured to be chaotic. Two major works — a production of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni and the world premiere of a major oratorio by John Adams, The Gospel According to the Other Mary — were scheduled two weeks apart. Then the Phil tried to shoehorn in a series of orchestral, Green Umbrella and chamber music concerts around the opera and preceding the oratorio.
Things have been in flux since that original schedule was posted. Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto were all jettisoned in favor of (mostly) Mozart. Then, according to at least one published report, Adams was very late delivering the full score of his new oratorio, so Gustavo Dudamel has been busy cramming for that assignment while preparing Don Giovanni, which meant he bowed out of Tuesday’s Green Umbrella concert.
Frankly, it wouldn’t have surprised me if we had arrived at Disney Hall last night to find a new conductor for the program but, judging by the care he poured into the accompaniment, perhaps Dudamel didn’t want to pass on the L.A. Phil premiere of Latvian composer Peteris Vasks’ Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra. Vasks wrote the piece for Gidon Kremer but, again judging by a first hearing last night, 28-year-old Russian violinist Alina Pogostkina has emphatically made this work her own.
The 31-minute concerto uses three virtuosic cadenzas as the trunk of a tree off of which spring many short branches. The concerto is subtitled “Distant Light” and the light was almost imperceptible at the beginning as Pogostkina and the orchestra traded off shimmering harmonic layers before she spun a rich, gorgeous melody.
I could have listened to Pogostkina play that sumptuous melodic line all night, but the cadenzas allowed the soloist (winner of the 2005 Sibelius Competition and making her LAPO debut) to display her prodigious virtuosity to its fullest. Meanwhile, the “branch” sections alternated shimmering measures with moments of chaos and sardonic wit before the first-movement melody returned at the end (albeit in a different key) as the concerto finally dissolved while the light again became distant; as the late, great British comedienne Anna Russell once exclaimed of Wagner’s Ring, “We’re exactly where we started [in this case] 31 minutes ago!”
Pogostkina, Vasks (who came onstage), Dudamel and the orchestra received generous, well-deserved ovations from the audience. The LAPO strings were lustrous throughout the performance and Dudamel seemed to revel in the challenges that Vasks asked of soloist, orchestra and conductor.
If the concerto shone a rich spotlight on the Phil’s strings, Mozart’s “Posthorn” Serenade was the chance for the Phil’s wind section to take center stage, literally as well as figuratively. David Buck, flute; Marion Arthur Kuszyk, oboe and their colleagues sparkled in their solo and ensemble offerings, while James Wilt poured out sweet, melodious lines on the posthorn (a valve-less, curled horn instrument). Dudamel led a propulsive reading of this 40-minute work and the entire orchestra was in top form throughout.
In yet another programming switch, Dudamel swapped Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue for the far-more-familiar Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, which was bouncy without being boisterous. In two weeks, the concerts will exchange the Vasks concerto in favor of Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate, with Kiera Duffy as the soloist.
Meanwhile, Don Giovanni opens next Friday, with additional performances May 20, 24 and 26. Got all that straight?
• Dudamel has rearranged the orchestra slightly for these concerts. The violins were divided left and right with cellos and basses to the left, inside of the first violins. Timpanist Joseph Pereira was perched alone on the top riser but appeared to be slightly off center to the right (ask not why).
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.