Los Angeles Music Review: A NIGHT OF ELEGANCE (LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on July 30, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


As promised, the Los Angeles Philharmonic program last Tuesday offered stylishness and sophistication, but guest artists Katia and Marielle Labéque added an element of fierce emotion. It was evident in the centerpiece, Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E major for Two Pianos (and Orchestra), how well the sisters complement each other. Marielle, wearing black, had an intensity that was more internal than that of Katia, in red, who was fiery and emotional. Each had flair in her own right, occasionally rising from the bench to slam a chord. Mendelssohn was only 14 when he composed the double concerto, and while the composer shows vision, astounding technical mastery, and extraordinary talent beyond his years, the material is not very weighty and somewhat repetitive. Yet there is an exuberant youthfulness of which the Labéques took full advantage. Their playful performances drew sterling support from conductor Bernard Laberdie and the chamber orchestra, and there are certainly enough twists and turns in the concerto to sustain interest.

It was during their encore, however, that the Labéques truly got a chance to show off their electrifying skills. Written for two pianos (and later amended for orchestra), Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini (1941), showcases the composer’s extraordinary flair that is more than mere technique—it is a thrill ride of exciting inventiveness. The sisters attacked their keyboards with savage skill, and their jaw-dropping aptitude made this the highlight of the night.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 is always a crowd-pleaser, with an opening (allegro vivace) that has an accessible straightforward song form that reemerges through three more movements. The third movement—the adagio non troppo—almost sounds like a theme for pirates, with its rolling surges emulating stormy waves. The 3/4 time felt more like 6/8 under Laberdie’s animated and swarthy conducting, and the call-and-answer section gave oboist Ariana Ghez a chance to shine.

Laberdie had me concerned after playing the Star Spangled Banner like a dirge. He then opened with a light and airy Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro Overture, which came off much more pastoral than substantial. His work became meatier once the French pianists came on the scene. While the entire program was somewhat swallowed up at the Hollywood Bowl (of all the Schubert symphonies, the No. 5 is scored for the smallest orchestra), it ultimately didn’t matter that the venue is not a locale as intimate as the pieces require. The Philharmonic’s proficiency allowed me to listen to these familiar works much more acutely than if they were heard on recordings.

A Night of Elegance
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Hollywood Bowl
played July 30, 2013
for future LA Phil events, visit http://www.laphil.com/

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