January 20, 2013

MUSIC: LA Philharmonic, January 20

Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor
Midori, violin

The program:
  • Kodály: Háry János Suite
  • Eötvös: DoReMi, Violin Concerto #2
  • Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra
An all-Hungarian program today, made up of connected composers. Kodály and Bartók shared a music teacher as young men (though they did not meet until later in life), and Eötvös studied composition with Kodály.

I had never heard any of Eötvös's music before today, and his violin concerto does not leave me wanting to hear more. He uses a relatively small orchestra, though there are three percussionists, each with his own array of gongs, chimes, and cymbals; as well as harp and celeste. The music is harsh and unpleasantly dissonant (and yes, dissonance can be pleasant), and made up of tiny chunks which hop around the orchestra, seemingly at random, with no instrument or tune ever allowed to take hold for more than a few seconds.

And above it all, there's poor Midori, frantically sawing away like a woman in the throes of the angriest muscle spasms in history. The concerto is nearly devoid of melody or lyricism, and on those few occasions when the violin is given something that threatens to turn into a tune, every note of it is set against clashing pitches and timbres from the orchestra, and some outburst (most frequently from the percussion) stops it before it really gets started.

The performance was certainly passionate and committed, and I will give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume it was also skillful. But even if there had been wrong pitches and missed entrances all the way through, in all that frenzied chaos, who would possibly know?

The rest of the program was far more successful. The Bartók Concerto for Orchestra isn't a piece I particularly love, but this was a fine performance; the wind duos and the brass chorale in the Guioco delle copie movement were highlights, as was the horn fanfare that opens the Finale.

Best of all, though, was  Kodály's Háry János Suite, a delightful assortment of moments from the comic opera. The brass was superb throughout, displaying remarkble light agility in the "Viennese Musical Clock," comic martial bombast in "The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon," and just the right level of buffoonery in the pomp of the "Entrance of the Emperor and His Court." There was also fine solo work, notably in the "Song" movement, which began with a gorgeous passage for viola, and ended with a clarinet solo that faded so beautifully into silence that I'm still not sure whether I actually heard the last note or only imagined it.

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