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Breaking the Rules in Recital : Music review: All bets were off when Vadim Sakharov replaced Martha Argerich as Gidon Kremer's partner.

October 25, 1995|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

A little disclaimer, set in tiny print, lines the bottom of every credit page for concerts at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. "Programs and artists," it whispers, "subject to change." Translation: No matter what happens, ask not for your money back.

The innocent warning has turned into a dramatic necessity this season, and the season is only 3 weeks old. The casualties thus far have included Anne-Sophie Mutter (in two separate events), Richard Goode and, as of Monday, Martha Argerich.

To replace them, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has turned to Vadim Repin, Yefim Bronfman, Alexei Lubimov and, now, Vadim Sakharov. All happen to hail from what used to be the Soviet Union. All came to town with their own repertory choices. And only one--Bronfman--enjoys a reputation comparable to that of the unfortunate absentee.

Ah, the vagaries and vicissitudes of the music world. . . .

The problems seemed particularly acute at the first so-called Celebrity Recital of the fall Monday night. It was to have offered a rare collaboration between the vaunted Argerich and a violinist who happens to be just as dazzling, just as famous and just as independent in spirit: Gidon Kremer. Their relatively conservative agenda was to survey sonatas of Prokofiev, Beethoven and Franck.

When the pianist reportedly fell victim to a back ailment, however, all bets were off. Scratch one celebrity. Scratch two sonatas.

Sakharov, who agreed to step in at short notice, is a very accomplished, very versatile pianist with a useful penchant for adventure. He accompanies sensitively, and he complements Kremer's eccentricities neatly. But he is no Argerich.

Kremer did keep the Prokofiev A-Major Sonata on the program with his new partner. Everything else had to be changed.

He tossed out the potentially soothing sonorities of Beethoven and Franck. Instead, he concocted a very mixed bill that spanned experiments by Arvo Part and Sofia Gubaidulina, complex solos by Bach, Ysaye and Debussy, and, at climax time, a couple of hazy-crazy tangos by Astor Piazzolla.

The non-capacity audience endured the shifts in good grace, notwithstanding a few boos directed at the modernist gestures of Gubaidulina. Still, anyone who anticipated conventional revelations had a right to be frustrated.

Kremer's modus operandi is well known by now. His deportment can be described as unorthodox. That's another understatement.

He meets all challenges, new and old, with drastic urgency. Although he commands a virtuoso technique, virtuosity per se doesn't appear to interest him much. Nor, one suspects, does the audience. He plays as if possessed by demons, and he seems to play primarily for himself.

This violinist keeps the score close to his nose. He sways and paces as the music overwhelms his senses. He crouches, rises on tiptoe, does deep knee bends. The mannerisms seem beyond his control. They are dictated, no doubt, by the intensity of his involvement in re-creation, and he somehow convinces us that the process is spontaneous. Think of him as the Glenn Gould of fiddlers.

It would be foolish, of course, to expect bonbons from Kremer. He's too serious to stoop to predictable trivia. He opts instead for unpredictable trivia.

The repetitive flourishes and drones of Part's austere "Fratres" (1980) inaugurated the concert with fashionable austerity. This, after all, is the work of a composer who thinks "it is enough when a single tone is beautifully played."

Kremer rebounded rhapsodically with the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 in D-minor, BWV 1004. Then, with Sakharov providing initially reticent support, he whipped up a poetic frenzy in the gutsy Prokofiev sonata of 1943.

After intermission came Gubaidulina's "Rope Dancer" (a.k.a. tightrope walker), an oddly endearing exercise in which the pianist spends much time manipulating the innards of his instrument while the violinist explores the atonal stratosphere with bow and strings. The sonic language is daring for a composer emerging from the other side of an iron curtain; it sounds a bit dated to ears long accustomed to timbral and harmonic stretching.

In Ysaye's "Ballade," Kremer made bravura in excelsis sound easy. In Debussy's "Feux d'artifice," Sakharov made impressionistic skirmishes in extremis sound wild. Finally, in Piazzolla's dreamy "Milonga" and eerie "Grand Tango"--the latter transcribed by Gubaidulina--both artists sustained a telling balance between bravado and agony.

For encores they volunteered the Improvisation movement of Richard Strauss' Opus 18 Sonata, followed by a nominally Viennese waltz by one V. Arzumanov. Then, when all was thought and played, Kremer and Sakharov ventured an old-fashioned bonbon in spite of themselves: Kreisler's "Schon Rosmarin." Sigh.

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