The music of Elliott Carter needs breathing space. Thursday night at the first of three performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, his recent "Allegro scorrevole" got the context it required to make its strongest impression.
Wisely snuggled between Schubert's beloved Fifth Symphony and Beethoven's ever-monumental Violin Concerto, the 11-minute essay, in its West Coast premiere, held its place on an engrossing program in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center.
"Allegro scorrevole"--"scorrevole" indicates fluency, flowing or gliding--is the final third of a triptych called "Symphoniae: sum fluxae pretium spei" ("I am the prize of flowing hope"), begun in 1993.
The piece does flow and glide; Carter uses all parts of a large orchestra extensively, but without heaviness; he keeps it light and quick--more than anything else, this music scurries.
Sequences of fast passages, surrounded by restful ones, justify the description of Carter's latest period--he will be 90 on Dec. 11--as "serene lyricism." The listener may imagine the rustlings of nature: squirrels, rabbits, insects, birds. The piece, however, is neither bucolic nor pictorial; it just keeps moving.
As far as one could tell--and, frankly, one is always guessing with a new work, especially one filled with Carter's signature complexity--this fair hearing from the Philharmonic conducted by music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, emerged clean, neat and undistorted. Afterward, the Thursday night audience applauded politely, just politely; a couple of auditors booed.
The acknowledged masterpieces on this agenda also received informed and fair treatment. Schubert's irresistible Fifth may have lacked the ultimate in instrumental balances and spontaneity, yet Salonen and the orchestra made its points stylishly and with good humor.
The Beethoven concerto boasted the impeccable soloism of German violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman, who brought to the opening movement a certain standoffishness not entirely inappropriate; to the Larghetto, a deep understanding of its Apollonian narrative as well as an expert manipulation of its nuances; and to the finale a consummate technique bolstered by an almost frightening insouciance. Salonen & Co. provided solid, effortless Beethovenian infrastructure; one cannot imagine a more supportive collaboration.