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MUSIC REVIEWS : Yan Pascal Tortelier Rises in L.A. Philharmonic Debut


In prospect, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's fourth program of the new season seemed unpromising--even after the scheduled guest conductor pulled out and the repertory was changed.

Two weeks ago, Donald Runnicles, music director of San Francisco Opera, canceled his Philharmonic dates, the official word being that he had "been forced to curtail his guest-conducting activities." A week later, the engagement of the 47-year-old French musician, Yan Pascal Tortelier, as well as a program two-thirds overhauled, was announced.

In the event, Friday night (repeated Saturday and Sunday), Tortelier's surprise debut had to cause rejoicing. Loud rejoicing.

Here is a conductor who seems to know his business, who inspires sophisticated musicians into the kinds of alertness and brilliance they do not always deliver, who finds the lost character and pristine emotion in a work as familiar, and regularly unengaging, as Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.

Tchaikovsky's Fifth ? Right. That overworked piece provided the climax to Tortelier's ear-opening program. In the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Friday night, it positively shone, its sense freshly minted, its motivations rethought, its ebb and flow restored.

The Philharmonic itself produced the aural beauties being heard, of course, but the urgency and pacing and irresistible continuity emanated from the podium. Tortelier--a violinist of repute, he is the son of the late cellist, Paul Tortelier, and holds conducting posts in the British Isles--seems to create an atmosphere of spontaneity.

Before this denouement, there were other happy surprises. Returning to the Pavilion's center stage, Silvia Marcovici imbued another repertory chestnut, Max Bruch's G-minor Violin Concerto, with renewed passion and vigor. The Romanian fiddler may not make a huge tone, but her sound is potent, her technique solid and her musicianship revelatory. She wore a slinky black gown--making her a Morticia look-alike--which only added to the strong impression of musical authority.

At the beginning of the evening, Tortelier and the orchestra did not deal in any dutiful warm-up, but in an apparently definitive performance of Ravel's kaleidoscopic "Rapsodie Espagnole." From the podium, the approach was sweeping, multicolored, probing; from the orchestra, myriad telling details emerged. A feast for the senses.

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