In all kinds of weather, and through successive changes in musical/political correctness, Iona Brown remains a leader who challenges, provokes and succeeds. The Salisbury-born violinist-conductor did it all, again, over the weekend, as she returned to her local post as principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
Her program, heard first in Royce Hall at UCLA Friday night, looked didactic but sounded lively. In a glib mood, one might call it Fugues and Fun. But, of course, given Brown's probing mind and lively musical intelligence, it was much more than just that.
The most fun, as well as the deepest music-making, came at the conclusion, in a cherishable rethinking and immaculate execution of Mozart's ultrafamiliar Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, K. 364. Here, soloist Brown shared the spotlight with violist Lars Anders Tomter, a member of one of her several orchestras, the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra.
The joys in this performance went beyond the high instrumental polish and the glove-in-hand ensemble and single-mindedness of the two soloists; it included an expanded dynamic scheme for the entire orchestra as well as full participatory projection of the work's changing emotional landscape. All of this was accomplished within strict stylistic boundaries, of course.
The pre-intermission fugal sampler had its own varied life too.
It began with Mozart's Adagio and Fugue, K. 546, ascended on Benjamin Britten's neglected Prelude and Fugue, Opus 29, and reached a climax in Beethoven's Cavatina and "Grosse Fuge," from Opus 133. From the first violinist's chair, Brown & Co.--they remain an entity, make no mistake--gave each work its due in attention, small detail and continuity.