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Music Review

Chamber Orchestra Shines in Opener


Sterling performances matched a festive occasion Saturday night when Jeffrey Kahane began his fourth season as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

The ensemble may not always play like the virtuoso band it can be, but this time, launching their subscription concert year in Royce Hall at UCLA--their 32nd consecutive season--the orchestral players outshone themselves in a brilliant display of musical accomplishment.

The major works on the program, Beethoven's Violin Concerto and Haydn's Symphony No. 103 ("Drumroll"), sounded as important as they are, and were deftly laid out and handsomely communicated by the orchestra's 41 players.

The overture was a novelty: Aaron Copland's "Three Latin American Sketches," primary-colored character pieces and Copland's last orchestral score, which the orchestra had not played before. The "Sketches" were brightly and handsomely executed under Kahane's astute leadership.

Joshua Bell, a great violinist at age 33, was the eloquent, definitive soloist in the D-major Concerto, uncovering its Olympian rhetoric and perfect lines with grace and inevitability. He added to this magisterial performance his own cadenzas for the first movement and finale--the former highly complex, magnificently inventive and almost Brahmsian in its resonance, the latter a frenzy of articulated arpeggios perfectly appropriate to its niche.

Most admirably, Bell and conductor Kahane--who himself, as a pianist, has scaled the heights of Beethoven's concertos--proved stylish collaborators with each other and with the orchestra. Aside from some instrumental raucousness--Royce Hall these days is acoustically brighter than ever--and moments when the winds swamped the violin soloist, this reading emerged carefully balanced.

Kahane's way with the "Drumroll" Symphony showed the orchestra in fine virtuoso fettle, delivering the work's kaleidoscopic mural of late-Classical ebulliences with skill and a full palette of Haydnesque colors.

In the opening, the contrasts between the sober opening and the more genial Allegro achieved genuine transparency. The variations of the second-movement Andante showcased the composer's ingenuity--concertmaster Margaret Batjer delivered her solo lines with an easy charm--as did the elegant bumptiousness of the Menuet. Haydn's finales are often irrepressible; in this one, the composer hit one of his peaks.

Kahane & Co. delivered all of these pleasures without strain and in a mood of felicitous accomplishment. The sellout audience, dressed to the teeth as is its wont on opening night, shared in the general air of celebration.

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