Los Angeles Music Preview: GRIEG WITH THIBAUDET (Los Angeles Philharmonic)

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by Frank Arthur on April 27, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


The Grieg piano concerto is one of those works that is hindered by its own popularity. I remember vividly its famous strains played over and over in a 1970s’ commercial for a classical compilation on LP. And Frank Loesser popularized the main theme above concert hall status by adding the famous strain to the song “Rosemary” in his How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961). Because the work draws in the crowds, it has been a constant feature of concert life. Yet this has gone on for so long that the A minor is sometimes dismissed as an old warhorse, making it difficult to approach it with fresh ears — for either performer or listener.


I invite you to attend Disney Hall this week when the adored (and always chicly dressed) Jean-Yves Thibaudet performs the work with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Thibaudet offers a sense of discovery that you don’t expect to find in such a well-known piece. The dramatic bluster is all there. But so is some very delicate playing. Here’s the sophisticated, suave Thibaudet (who has a residency at LA’s Colburn School)  with LA Phil’s own Gustavo Dudamel leading the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra:

The program’s opening is Modest Mussorgsky’s original tone poem, St. John’s Eve on Bald Mountain (1867), which relates a witches’ sabbath. Why underline “original”? The arrangement you will hear was rarely heard until the later Twentieth Century (the LA Phil premiered it with Esa-Pekka Salonen in 1995). Bald Mountain was actually never played in Mussorgsky’s lifetime; in 1886, five years after Mussorgsky’s death, Rimsky-Korsakov published an arrangement of the work, which was then rearranged by Leopold Stokowski for its inclusion in Walt Disney’s famous 1941 film, Fantasia (it will not be combined with Schubert’s Ave Maria at Disney Hall).

janacek-leosThe entire second half is devoted to one of my favorite pieces. Leoš Janáček, who was deeply influenced by Dvořák, is represented in Taras Bulba, a spectacular orchestral rhapsody full of the composer’s soaring melodies and jagged theatricalities. Like Dvořák in his fascination with America, Janáček was a Czech composer greatly taken with another culture: Russia and its literature.

Aside from his intrinsic Russophilia, Janáček was inspired by the heroic image of the fight of the Zaporozhian Cossacks — a mythical parallel to the contemporary struggle of his own nation as well as that of the Russians, whom he considered allies of the Czechs, during WWI. Janáček created his own musical apotheosis of militant Slavic patriotism in this orchestral rhapsody based on a Gogol novella of the same name. Taras Bulba is an inherently dramatic piece, which upon its premiere in 1921 resonated appropriately in the context of other works eulogizing the Czechoslovak Republic.

Thus, it’s apropos that Czech conductor Hrůša, who made his debut at Wiener Staatsoper last year conducting a new production of Janáček’s Věc Makropulos, will guest conduct this masterpiece.

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Jakub Hrůša, conductor
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano

Mussorgsky: St. John’s Night on Bald Mountain
Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
JanáčekTaras Bulba

Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S Grand Ave.
Friday, April 29, 2016 at 11am
Saturday, April 30 at 8pm
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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