Except for the local premiere performance of Alfred Schnittke's Third Violin Concerto--a work written for solo violin and an accompanying ensemble of 16 instruments--the latest Los Angeles Philharmonic subscription program offers nothing of special interest.
Conducted by Guenther Herbig and heard Thursday night in the Pavilion of the Music Center (with repeats scheduled over the weekend), it certainly delivers a small impact.
Schnittke's tight and mordant Concerto No. 3 (1978) clutches the listener desperately during its 22 gripping minutes, but does not otherwise justify its inclusion on an agenda for full orchestra. Similarly, Bach's First Orchestral Suite, BWV 1066, and Beethoven's Fourth Symphony might both be better served--given Herbig's uninspired conducting--on a chamber orchestra series where real specialists might probe their respective characters.
The music of Schnittke, the Russian composer born in 1934, has reached Philharmonic subscribers only on a New Music Group program given last season. As played by Gidon Kremer, assisted carefully by Herbig--both musicians have been associated with the work since its inception--the Third Violin Concerto proves to be bleak, abrasive, painfully atonal and ultimately poignant.
It is a work of numbing, but not inactive, alienation, one which moves through conflict and chaos to irresolute depression. Its final impression may be downbeat, but its inner progress to that point is never less than interesting. As far as one could tell, Kremer, Herbig and the assembled Philharmonic virtuosos gave the work a fair and faceted reading.
On the other hand, Herbig's approaches to both the Bach and Beethoven pieces stopped short of illumination and positive delving. In both works, the German conductor, now music director of the Detroit Symphony, kept the musical line in view while attending to pertinent details--and some of the playing he elicited from our Philharmonic had the unmistakable and admirable stamp of neatness.
But the many specific characteristics of each work, the buoyancy in Bach's dance movements and the playfulness in Beethoven's scherzo, for instance, clearly eluded Herbig's emotional range. He brought sobriety and regularity, but little of spirit, to these readings.