Music Review: SCHUBERT & BEETHOVEN (Jukka-Pekka Saraste with the Los Angeles Philharmonic)

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by Nick McCall on February 16, 2024

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


As part of its popular Friday Middays series in a program that plays until Sunday, the Los Angeles Philharmonic brought over Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra Artistic Director, for two favorites: Schubert’s 6th and Beethoven’s 7th.

Franz Schubert began writing his Symphony No. 6 in C Major, D. 589 when he was 20. It is a delicate piece that threatens to blow away in the slightest wind and without warning, perfect for an 11 a.m. concert. For this symphony, the orchestra was pared down to 55 players, creating an almost chamber-ensemble sound. Saraste leaned into the symphony’s gentle nature and stayed away from heaviness throughout. Since I am not at all a morning person, I was glad that Saraste kept the first two movements light and relaxing, gently and gradually waking me up into the bouncy third movement. It is in this part of the symphony we can hear the clear influence of Beethoven’s 7th, written only six years earlier. For the fourth movement, Saraste continued refraining from big dramatics. This approach greatly benefitted the woodwinds, the stars of the piece, who didn’t have to fight to be heard above the strings, and whose air bloomed in Disney Hall’s spacious acoustics.

For Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92, written when he was 42, the LA Phil just about doubled in size, filling the stage for this sprawling work. It has a heavier and more robust beginning than the Schubert, but Saraste kept it light, in spite of the orchestra’s massive size. Even for the first movement’s dramatic climax, he kept the horns subdued. Saraste’s understated approach really shone in the famous Allegretto, though. He began the movement at an extreme pianissimo, gradually growing louder and distraught, wringing out the sadness as much as possible. The whirlwind fourth movement was full of the stormy and furious energy we’ve come to expect from the Phil, yet Saraste underplayed the brass (two trumpets, three horns). I admit, I prefer when the interpretation is more bombastic and less tasteful, but it was still rousing and exciting.

All in all, it was a lovely way to wake up, and starting the day with Beethoven 7, one of my favorites, is always a good way to start the day.

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