Los Angeles Music Preview: ROMANCE AT THE PHIL (Bringuier, Tilling, Brahms, Berg & Beethoven)

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by Jesse David Corti on February 8, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


Lionel Bringuier touches down at Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Valentine’s Day weekend serving up a buffet of romantic music from Brahms, Berg, and Beethoven. Following his final year as Resident Conductor with the LA Phil, Bringuier returns with the exceptional Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling, whose voice carries the combination of full-bodied resonance and an angelic empathetic tone. She will be singing Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs, first performed by the LA Phil in 1992 with another Scandinavian Soprano/French conductor pairing: Phylis Bryn-Julson and Pierre Boulez. Also on the program are Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60. This all-German program is a cosmically amusing happenstance for Bringuier, who is the fourth child of his musically inclined French family; but it’s apropos since it takes a Frenchman to show an American audience how a romantic evening should be conducted.

Conductor Lionel Bringuier

Seven Early Songs were first performed in 1928, but the title refers to the composition dates, 1905 to 1908, early in Berg’s career as a composer. Imagine if a modern record label wanted to keep the public aware of a major recording artist, but the landmark album hadn’t been finished; they dig into the artist’s back catalogue and give them a fresh arrangement and orchestration, thereby temporarily satiating fans by filling the space between releases with an EP. Now, that is not to say that Berg’s songs are “B-sides” or “novelties”; they are a mature realization of a fresh-minded composer’s work. Berg was fortunate enough to be his own motivator and realize his own works with the measured mindset he had developed since first composing them. A student of atonal master Arnold Schoenberg, his music is a fascinating blend of his teacher’s and Brahms: romantic and sweet yet dexterous and daring in its harmonics and contrapuntal nature. Seven Early Songs was completed during the time he worked on his opera Lulu, the third act of which was unfinished when the author died (Friedrich Cerha completed the score in 1979).

Soprano Camilla Tilling

The songs, a hypnotic Brahms/Schoenberg hybrid, contain a haunting, bewitching sound in which the majestic lilts eventually resolve on angular tilts. The piece flows like a stream-of-consciousness set of ideas and sequences, a maze where one may not end up on the other side but is merely drawn in deeper. Camilla Tilling’s voice has genuine power, but what makes her most suitable for this work is the ability to control and color phrases amidst the complex accompaniment from the orchestra.

copyright Kelly Vee Photography

Beethoven composed his Fourth Symphony under similar circumstances as Berg. Not as widely recognized as his Third (Eroica) or Fifth, its composition took place while working on both his Piano Concerto No. 4 and opera Fidelio, and is dedicated to the man who compelled him to write it: Count Franz von Oppersdorff. Comparing it to the Third and Fifth Symphonies, fellow German composer Robert Schumann saw the Fourth’s vivacious and cheerfully romantic nature as “a supple Greek girl standing between two giants of the west.” Leonard Bernstein, praising the sophisticated introduction’s tonal tip-toeing, and Hector Berlioz, deeply fond of the Symphony’s second movement, both championed the work’s magnificence. For music-lovers, romantics, and other assorted lovebirds, this is Beethoven at his highest pink: technically dazzling and whimsically passionate.

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Today’s scholars have come to the consensus that Brahms is not utilizing a Haydn theme in his Variations on a Theme by Haydn, but rather an old Burgenland pilgrim’s chant titled “Chorale St Antoni.” Nevertheless, Brahms composed eight variations on this chant. A bit of an old fogey as Artistic Director at Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, favoring classic over modern, he made friends with Haydn’s biographer Karl Ferdinand Pohl, who was at the time in possession of rare Haydn manuscripts that Brahms was all too eager to pore over. And while the music may just have been a mere exercise from the brilliant Johannes Brahms, it is nonetheless gorgeous and sumptuously arranged. Listen especially for Variations IV (minor-key beauty), V (triumphant sound), VII (inspiration to kiss your lover during the heavenly Grazioso), and the Finale (magnificently arranged with a crescendoing climax).

You can take your love or your date to a night of music at any convenient time, but for the true romantics, this evening of Brahms, Berg, and Beethoven cannot be missed.

artist photos courtesy of LA Phil

'Cupid and Psyche as Children' by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1890)Romance at the Phil
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Lionel Bringuier, conductor
Camilla Tilling, soprano
BRAHMS: Variations on a Theme by Haydn
BERG: Seven Early Songs
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm
for tickets, call 323.850.2000
or visit www.LAPhil.com

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