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MUSIC AND DANCE REVIEWS : Philharmonic Plays a Gloomy Program

March 06, 1995|DANIEL CARIAGA

An arresting dichotomy marked Esa-Pekka Salonen's weekend concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic: As observed Friday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center, Salonen's bold 20th-Century program became brilliantly performed but finally depressing.

The apparent miscalculation came in pairing two of the more gloomy works in the repertory, Bela Bartok's ultimate downer, the "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta" (1936), with Dmitri Shostakovich's earnest but humorless First Violin Concerto. Despite virtuosic and probing performances by the ensemble and noisy approval from a large audience, this listener found the entire evening one of only lugubrious thrills.

It began charmingly, however, with an unconducted chamber piece, Ravel's Introduction and Allegro (1905) for harp, with flute, clarinet and string quartet. Philharmonic principal Lou Anne Neill was the effortless soloist in a sensitive performance.

The reconfiguration of the entire orchestra, by the way--thrust into the auditorium and seated over the pit on a raked stage floor--appeared to benefit the players in the Ravel septet. Benefits continued through the evening: Both the Bartok and Shostakovich pieces had an immediacy, a presence, that one might not have expected in the ensemble's usual positioning.

Salonen led both works with that passionate control he finds when truly engaged by the music at hand. His players responded in kind, with handsome detailing and tight ensemble. They were probably inspired, as the conductor seemed to be, by the presence of soloist Viktoria Mullova, a violinist of clear expressiveness and technical superiority.

For the fourth time this season, a guest concertmaster made an appearance at these concerts. Jonathan Carney, who holds the comparable post (called leader in England) with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, seemed perfectly at home in that hot seat.

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