November 07, 2010

MUSIC: LA Philharmonic, November 7 (Debussy/Stravinsky/Takemitsu)

Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor; Peter Serkin, piano.

The program:
  • Debussy: Jeux
  • Stravinsky: Concerto for Piano and Winds
  • Takemitsu: riverrun
  • Stravinsky: Suite from The Firebird
The usual disclaimer: Anything that sounds like actual knowledge is most likely a shameless lift from the program notes or the pre-concert lecture.

Much of this music wasn't really my cup of tea. Debussy's ballet score and Takemitsu's piano concerto both meandered a bit, drifting from moment to moment, always rather pretty in a vague way, but I couldn't find much to latch on to as a throughline to get me through the piece. As the music wandered, so did my mind. I suspect that the Debussy wouldn't feel quite so aimless if we were actually watching the ballet that goes with it.

I enjoyed the Stravinsky much more. The piano concerto is a rather dark, heavy work, in no small part due to the near absence of strings (only the double basses are present). The winds and brass don't spend much time in their upper register, and the piano solo mostly avoids the glittering trills and runs that one expects from a piano concerto. The opening of the second movement largo is particularly lovely, with a brooding melody rising from a series of heavy, lugubrious chords.

And the Firebird Suite was great fun. The "Infernal Dance" was the highlight, a spectacular, furious whirlwind. The final moments didn't quite have the punch I'd have expected; I've come to expect more kick from the Philharmonic and Disney Hall than we got from the brass today. But even if the performance was slightly muffled, the piece is a terrific crowd-pleaser.

Next up: the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (with Hilary Hahn) and Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique.

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