The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra's leaderless season--and parade of guest conductors--opened with an ambitious, stimulating program on Thursday at the Embassy Theatre.
It proved to be an occasion of high, if never quite easy, accomplishment by the seasoned conductor, Charles Mackerras, by the cello soloist, the young Israel-born, Canada-resident, Ofra Harnoy and individual members of the orchestra. It was hardly an occasion for savoring the rewards of polished ensemble playing.
Sir Charles' leadership proved to be unfailingly lively and to the point, beginning with a crisply accented, stylish and fleet account of Mozart's "Linz" Symphony that was marred by some scrappy string ensemble in the introductory measures and in the overloud Andante. The sophisticated Chamber Orchestra audience approved lustily after each of the work's four movements.
It was rather jolting to encounter an interpretation of Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto other than that of its dedicatee, Mstislav Rostropovich. In contrast with the Soviet cellist's huge, dark double-bass-like tone and agonized soulsearching, Harnoy infused the 1959 composition with a bright-toned athleticism that showed the music in a far less grim, but no less intense light.
With the attentive backing of Mackerras and the Chamber Orchestra's brilliant winds, she darted, dashed and crooned with thrilling aplomb (a mechanical lapse in the finale notwithstanding), making even the near-interminable cadenza movement tingle with tension. Harnoy is, clearly, a blazing young talent.
The post-intermission portion of the program was devoted to the witty, lyrical charms of Richard Strauss' pitfall-strewn "Bourgeois Gentilhomme" Suite. It, too, got off to a rocky start, with a major communication failure between the struggling obbligato piano and the string contingent.
Ensemble cohesiveness did not arrive until nearly midway through the score, which climaxed in a memorably sensitive reading of the magnificent "Lully Minuet." Here again, it was the ensemble's principals who carried the day: the sweet-toned violin of Paul Shure, the agile oboe of Allan Vogel, the suave cello of Douglas Davis, and the assured, assertive horn of Richard Todd who had earlier distinguished himself in the extended solo passages of the Shostakovich Concerto.
It was, nonetheless, a long evening, for the numerous musical glitches as well as for a more than allowable number of extramusical tribulations:
--A total blackout in the already too-dark hall as the musicians were attempting to change positions after the symphony;
--liveried Embassy Hotel staff traversing the balcony during the performance;
--loud conversations in the presumably unattended lobby during the Strauss suite,
--and the tintinnabulation of wrist alarms (at least three) in quieter portions of the program.