Music without text became the theme of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's latest set of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion concerts, which began Friday night.
Stephen Hartke's amusing but really abstract piece "The Ascent of the Equestrian in a Balloon" was the overture. The finale was a suite of four (of the seven) movements from Berlioz's "Romeo and Juliet," orchestral excerpts without the vocal soloists and chorus of the original. In between came Beethoven's ubiquitous Third Piano Concerto in a provocative, unconventional reading by Radu Lupu.
Because Berlioz's "Symphonie funebre et triomphale" is an instrumental showpiece about emotions and not about words--and therefore neither an opera nor an oratorio--the suite made sense. Esa-Pekka Salonen's incisive conducting of the orchestra probed the work's depths and achieved an admirable intensity. In its first performance of the piece in 18 years, the Philharmonic delivered both force and delicacy as required.
Hartke's 4-year-old piece--jumpy, nervous, jazzy and consoling by turns--occupies its 10 minutes eventfully but leaves little to remember, except perhaps the American composer's resonant program note about his 2-year-old son. Salonen and the orchestra whipped up a cheerful performance.
Lupu's Zen-like delivery of the C-minor Concerto showed the Romanian pianist in a meditative mood far from the dramatic playing field we have come to associate with this work. Such a mood fit admirably with the great Largo, much less so in the Rondo, which became an essay in daydreaming and navel-gazing, not the cathartic, finally jolly finale of tradition. This was not an unhappy performance, just an odd one.