If all had gone as planned, the local premiere of a new piano concerto by Udo Zimmermann, as played by the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, with the much-admired Peter Roesel as soloist, would have been heard Wednesday night at Ambassador Auditorium.
But things did not go as planned. Zimmermann has not completed the concerto; Roesel did not come on the current tour of the East German ensemble, and the work was replaced by a recent timpani concerto by another composer from Eastern Europe, Siegfried Matthus.
To the sizable audience in the Pasadena hall Wednesday, the change in the orchestra's second program seemed no cause for disappointment. Matthus' 18-minute Concerto for Timpani, subtitled "The Forest," turned out to be an accessible and intriguing exercise in pungent harmonies and exotic effects, and it was received enthusiastically.
The composer states--in a program note--that he has tried in this work "to give form to the incidental idea of the endangerment and destruction of nature." Though certainly engaging, especially as it uses the solo part in two contrasting cadenzas placed strategically between the three movements, the work, written in 1984, seems never to achieve the composer's aim. Karl Mehlig, a 31-year veteran of the orchestra who has now earned the title Professor on its roster, played the solo part with stoic virtuosity.
Surrounding the concerto, Kurt Masur, the ensemble's artistic director and conductor, programmed Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
Intonational discrepancies and a buzzy, unclear string tone made the Barber piece sound less important, also less lush, than it is, and can be.
In a stylish but choppy, sometimes singsong reading of the C-minor Symphony, the Leipzigers showed that stylishness is not enough. Unreliable, thin-toned, bleaty and raucous wind-playing spoiled this performance, and the provincial level of accomplishment demonstrated by the string choir did not save it, either.