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Once More, the Subtle Beauty of Ligeti

April 27, 1998|DANIEL CARIAGA

The Los Angeles Philharmonic's ongoing "Around Ligeti" Festival has an audience, or an apparent one, judging from the warm reception and enthusiastic shouts after each of two works by the Hungarian master played on a Haydn/Ligeti program at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Friday night.

On the other hand, the usually full Friday house showed a number of empty seats; some subscribers just don't show up when there is no soloist. Also: The program the preceding week, also conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, had also featured Haydn and Ligeti . . .

Those who stayed away this time missed splendid revivals of two of the 74-year-old composer's early notice-getters, "Atmospheres" (1961) and "Lontano" (1967), works of large-orchestra density, glacial movement and prismatic sound. There are eerie, floating sonorities and harmonic changes so subtle (the composer's overview of "Atmospheres" is super-specific), the listener does not necessarily perceive the counterpoint.

In both pieces, which move, in annotator Paul Griffiths' description, "with majestic slowness," it is texture, not motion, that becomes the defining element.

Salonen and the philharmonic lavished abundant care on allowing the two works to reveal their musical contents. The ensemble brought the same kind of care, plus appropriate ebullience, to Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 43 ("Mercury") and 45 ("Farewell").

To underline the point of the "Farewell" Symphony, the Pavilion stage was lit only by music-stand lights, which were turned off as each group of players concluded its participation. The Ligeti partisans liked that, too.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic's "Around Ligeti" Festival continues tonight with a New Music Group performance at 8 p.m. in the Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts four Ligeti works: Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet, the West Coast premiere of "Mysteries of the Macabre," "Aventures" and "Nouvelles Aventures." $15-$20. (213) 850-2000.

South Bay Group Pushes Boundaries

A compelling new work, Augusta Read Thomas' Flute Concerto, served as centerpiece on the final program of the Chamber Orchestra of the South Bay's 1997-98 season. Performed by flutist Nadine Asin, sensitively assisted by conductor Frances Steiner and the ensemble, the piece, in its world premiere, displayed high art and edgy thrills.

It is only 12 minutes in length, but its materials are tightly woven and its emotional narrative, though sometimes abrupt, keeps the listener engrossed.

Atonal but accessible, Thomas' inventive style shows off the solo instrument but uses the entire ensemble colorfully and generously. Thomas, a faculty member at the Eastman School in Rochester, N.Y., and currently composer in residence at the Chicago Symphony, knows what she is about; what she is about here is skillfully gripping the listener.

In the small, commodious Norris Theatre in Palos Verdes, Steiner presided commandingly over this carefully prepared premiere; the rest of the program seemed to suffer from minimal rehearsal.

Blunt, dry and unflattering acoustics were particularly noticeable in works by Beethoven, the opening "Coriolan" Overture and the closing First Symphony. In both, variable instrumental execution--from solid and engaging to slovenly and unintegrated--gave the impression of short preparation. Steiner's vigorous leadership could not make up for time not spent.

Asin also was the resourceful, virtuosic soloist in Charles Griffes' post-impressionistic "Poem," a charming staple, as the Thomas work may soon be, of the flute literature.

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