Thursday night audiences at the Los Angeles Philharmonic's subscription concerts tend to be polite and well-behaved. But sometimes they leave before the end of the evening.
This week, a lot of them did just that, before the finale of Edward Elgar's First Symphony, a work perhaps only an Anglophile could cherish. This despite the fact that it was played neatly and carefully by the orchestra, and led with great affection by a bona fide English conductor, Mark Elder.
The 47-year-old musician kept things moving--a good thing in this sprawling work--but pace alone can't cover the fact that this symphony does invite abandonment. Given the work's laissez-faire structure, ambitious but uninspired melodies and paucity of interesting musical ideas, the early leavers of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion could hardly be chastised.
The first part of the two-piece program, however, offered substance and seriousness in Stephen Kovacevich's brilliant, unsentimental playing of Beethoven's G-major Piano Concerto.
The American musician, a long-term resident of England, brought stylishness and bravura to this Olympian challenge. He stressed the contrasts, pressed the tempos, motivated the composer's urgency in the struggles of the first movement. Then he delivered as poignant, sad and tearless a reading of the slow movement as may be possible, recalling Clifford Curzon's final, seraphic performance here of the same work in 1970. After that, the nobility of the finale emerged naturally, unperturbed and highly polished.
Elder and the Philharmonic proved expert collaborators throughout.
* Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mark Elder, conductor, with Stephen Kovacevich, piano, repeats the Beethoven G-major Piano Concerto, with Elgar's "Enigma" Variations instead of the Symphony, in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., today at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at 2:30 p.m., it will play the same program as Thursday (with Elgar's First Symphony). (213) 850-2000.