Music Review: SCHUMANN AND SCHEHERAZADE (LA Phil with Guest Conductor Tianyi Lu; Pianist Sunwook Kim at Disney Hall)

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by Emilio Cuenca on May 16, 2023

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


For the first Los Angeles Philharmonic performance of British composer Anna Klein’s This Midnight Hour, guest conductor Chinese-born New Zealander Tianyi Lu in a sparkly blouse conducted precisely and clearly but with incredible elegance, oftentimes pulling notes out of the instrumentalists like a single thread; her gestures reminded me like those from someone who’s studied Dalcroze eurhythmics. Klein’s orchestrations combined timbres effectively and beautifully; particularly iconic was the piccolo with the bowed crotale, a percussion instrument consisting of small, tuned brass disks. Loved the percussion, authoritative timpani, a silky bassoon duet, the tipsy violas inviting a dance, and the sound of fuzzy trumpets off in the distance. The piece swayed dangerously like the ocean with a storm approaching, depicted by an impressionistic to modern sound melting into Neo-Baroque-like cadences, which unexpectedly worked perfectly together. This short visual poem ended with the elements evaporating as a soft serene sunshine appeared to come out.

Sunwook Kim (Marco Borggreve)

The opening of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto was announced like a warm wind led by the oboe. Sunwook Kim, a South Korean pianist living in London, was not afraid to be dry so he could achieve a clear and articulated sound. Schumann clearly recognized and employed the clarinet’s versatility masterfully, and Burt Hara sounded amazing. Lu and Kim were a stellar duo, so expressive together. Flexible tempos with subtle accelerandos and rallentandos; slower at lush romantic parts with space to breathe. Kim accompanied the orchestra bringing out dry, articulated bass passages. Lu had complete control of the orchestra and they followed her perfectly — the LA Phil players sounding incredibly sharp. Kim’s cadenza was spectacular, as he brought out the polyphony with a beautiful rubato, arriving at the gentlest pianissimos. The third movement’s stately tempo was not rushed so it could move forward to the marching parts, which was played bouncy and bubbly, contrasting with the dramatic bursts in the music. They played with so much contrast between light and dramatic outbursts to inviting dances while still giving ample space to the nostalgic longing afterthoughts we love Schumann for. Lu literally danced in this movement. There were minimal balance problems, yet this was nonetheless one of the best interpretations of this concerto I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. Kim, wearing velvet shoes with a shiny buckle, played a beautiful encore of Schumann’s Blumenstück, op. 19, a short piano piece dating from 1839, and it was indeed reminiscent of the most serene flowers calmly swaying with gentle butterflies.

After the interval, Lu — a former Dudamel Fellow — took the oft-played Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade and showed why this dynamic piece shows up so often in the repertoire. It was indeed spectacular. The characters brought out in Nathan Cole‘s violin and Emmanuel Ceysson‘s elegant harp were flawless despite their highly demanding, concerto-level parts (Cole seemed just a tad a nervous, but his results were terrific). The trombones and French horns were ridiculously powerful, as were the gorgeous bassoon and clarinet solos from Whitney Crockett and Boris Allakhverdyan. Lu froze moments in time with animated and clear entrances, a beautiful spectacle to watch. With just her hands for the sweet princess and prince dance, Lu brought out heart flutters in the strings, helping to underscore Rimsky-Korsakov’s successful marriage of western music with eastern Russian identity. His orchestrations using percussion with eastern flair are brilliant. The shipwreck scene was so powerful with very articulated, fast passages, but the entire piece beautifully was paced wonderfully; it was magical, climactic and big. Simply the best!!

photos courtesy of LA Phil

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