The joys of concert-going are first of all aural, but they have other aspects too. As compelling and provocative as was the performance that guest conductor Sylvain Cambreling elicited from the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Friday night, there were also pleasures to be found in reading about the program.
Christopher Hailey's one-long-paragraph essay on the contents of this third program of the season--now a weekly feature in the program book--explained, or justified, this apparent melange of pieces by Berlioz, Mendelssohn and Henri Dutilleux with Bach transcriptions by Schoenberg and Webern. Howard Posner's trenchant and amusing annotations also illuminated what might have seemed an arbitrary collection of music for orchestra.
And the French conductor's logic in constructing this program at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion could be understood. The rarely heard and fascinating Overture that Berlioz wrote for his uncompleted opera "Les Franc-juges" (Judges of the Secret Court) titillated the listener as a bright introduction to the ubiquitous sounds of Mendelssohn's E-minor Violin Concerto.
And the Bach arrangements, so dense and complicated they deserve Hailey's description of "inspired pedantry," proved the perfect overture to Dutilleux's non-contrapuntal, mercifully single-minded "Metaboles" (1964), being heard in its first Los Angeles performance.
"Metaboles" is a grand and absorbing piece that holds the listener rapt through 17 eventful minutes. It consists of five interrelated movements, which move forward with a startling inevitability and emotional thrust; one wonders why it took so long to arrive here. The orchestra's aggressive and clarified performance was a tribute to the gently analytical leader on the podium.
Cambreling also brought out the best in Berlioz's quirky piece, and proved a suave and able collaborator in Martin Chalifour's admirable playing of the familiar Mendelssohn concerto.
Having excelled in his highly visible role as principal concertmaster of the Philharmonic in the past three years, in exposing solo performances of works by Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Bach, Lalo and Mozart, and in chamber music, too, Chalifour might be expected to bring all his many musical virtues to the familiar work. And he did, if at a sightly lower emotional temperature, and without the charismatic individuality one might have hoped for.
This was clean, accurate, pristine playing; the slow movement, in particular, sang forth effortlessly. Yet, the total stayed on a lower rung of compulsion and heat than earlier Chalifour performances have led us to anticipate.