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Music Review

Minkowski Energizes the Philharmonic

November 13, 2000|JOHN HENKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

French conductor Marc Minkowski came to his Los Angeles Philharmonic debut Friday evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with a distinguished reputation as a period instrument specialist. More to the point, however, he is a man of the theater, and he made freshly dramatic work of the staples at hand.

It is hard to imagine anything new in the familiar mania of Berlioz's "Symphonie fantastique," truly a been-there, done-that kind of piece. The Philharmonic has even entrusted it to another period authority, Roger Norrington, whose account had a more menacing wildness to it, but not the leaping grace of Minkowski's.

Like Norrington, Minkowski rearranged the Philharmonic seating, splitting the violin sections antiphonally, though not the timpani. He elicited his own unique sonic world from the set-up, a world of sharply defined foreground, spiked with glinting instrumental splashes--the weirdly clangorous chimes, for example, and the serpentine snarl of the bassoons and muted horns.

Minkowski is a bobber and a bouncer on the podium, working from memory and doffing his jacket for his Berlioz aerobics. The Philharmonic seemed unfazed and even inspired by his high-energy efforts, producing dashing, sensuous playing.

The conductor had a kindred spirit in piano soloist Vladimir Feltsman, who attacked Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" with characterful relish. He too is a musician of very purposeful passion, cleanly detailed and articulate in every circumstance, and his interaction with Minkowski and the orchestra was persuasively argued on both sides.

Minkowski opened the proceedings with a novelty, the 1809 Symphony No. 1 in G minor of Etienne-Nicolas Mehul. This is a bracing, exuberant work, naive in development and sentimental in reflection, but otherwise compelling, and it nears Berliozian levels of idiosyncrasy in its barbed finale. The Philharmonic brought dancing flair and zest to its first performance of the work.

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