If all had gone as planned, Carlo Maria Giulini would have returned to conduct the concerts of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion this week and next. But, for reasons tinged with a certain degree of mystery--if not obfuscation--our former music director has now decided to confine his work to Europe.
At the beginning of the season it was announced that Guenter Wand, a German routinier of the old school, would take over Giulini's local dates, substituting Berlioz's "Roman Carnival" Overture and Brahms' Fourth Symphony for the previously scheduled Bruckner Seventh on the first of three programs.
So far, so mediocre.
As the perverse fates would have it, Wand also had to cancel his engagement (illness was the vague Philharmonic explanation). Ergo, the baton fell Thursday to Edo de Waart.
De Waart, who is completing his eighth and last year as music director of the San Francisco Symphony and who is about to take over the Netherlands Opera, came to our rescue at 2 1/2 weeks' notice. What's more, he did so without changing the repertory rescheduled for Wand.
He deserves gratitude and admiration for his flexibility and professionalism under trying circumstances. It would be less than realistic, however, to pretend that this program brought out the best in him.
De Waart would seem, by temperament, to be rather cool and analytical--a chronically tasteful musician most compelling in challenges demanding poise, clarity and restraint. He doesn't care much, thank goodness, for bombast. Nor does he luxuriate much in romantic indulgence.
For the dutiful throat-clearing maneuvers of the "Roman Carnival," he sustained plenty of dash and brio, striving for brilliance and precision rather than effusive rhetoric. It was fast, painless and reasonably well played.
For the climactic profundities of the Brahms Fourth, after intermission, he enforced breathless propulsion and a rather limited emotional range, suggesting--with some justification--that the drama in the music requires no special focus or stress at this late date. It was clean, impersonal and reasonably well played.
The greatest unease of the evening occurred in the Schumann Concerto, which found Murray Perahia celebrating the 10th anniversary of his Philharmonic debut as soloist. Conductor and pianist obviously agreed that the scale should be intimate, the aura lyrical, the textures transparent, the phrasing elegant. Beyond that, however, the two seemed to suffer an interpretive mismatch.
De Waart's no-nonsense, keep-moving, don't-dawdle approach remained fundamentally, stubbornly prosaic. It left little room for Perahia's characteristic sighs and whispers, little opportunity for the pianist to explore the possibilities of expressive nuance, little time for poetic expansion.
The result was a nervous, hectic collaboration that wore understatement like a straitjacket--and that sometimes found Perahia's customarily accurate fingers playing in the Rubinstein cracks.