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MUSIC REVIEW

Even reversed, Shostakovich sounds powerful

The Philharmonic may not be playing the composer's works in chronological order, but, boy, are they playing them.

May 06, 2003|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

The Los Angeles Philharmonic's Shostakovich cycle would be making a more meaningful impact had it been concentrated into one or maybe two seasons instead of being spread out over five. As it is, we won't pick up the thread again until March 2004. Nor is the cycle in numerical order; Symphony No. 6 was played last October ahead of Nos. 4 and 5, which we've heard over the last two weeks. The disregard for chronology means Shostakovich's extraordinary evolution doesn't register as powerfully as it should.

Nevertheless, Friday's concert provided good performances that should keep us stoked until next year.

First, at the pre-concert event, another ad-hoc Philharmonic string quartet burrowed into the tightly knit Quartet No. 5, genially at first but soon tapping into its intensity and bleakness. Later, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonic gave the Symphony No. 5 a multifaceted, well-paced workout, with punching, unified cello/bass playing in the Scherzo and beautifully controlled pianissimos in the Largo.

The most provocative interpretive decision was the way Salonen bought into the idea that the final measures of the symphony should be played at an excruciatingly slow tempo. Mstislav Rostropovich says that the feeling should be like being stretched on the rack, tortured by dissonances instead of jubilant apotheosis -- and Salonen convincingly drew out the emotional implications.

The other event of the evening was the Philharmonic debut of the highly touted Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey, subbing for Truls Mork (who broke his leg) in the Dvorak Cello Concerto, with Faure's subdued "Apres un reve" as an encore.

Clad in shirt sleeves with suspenders, Wispelwey strikes a workingman's pose, and he engages the orchestra without hogging the spotlight. He and Salonen were a well-matched team; they like their Dvorak lightly textured, unsentimental and with a streamlined momentum that actually made some of the music sound like Sibelius. Which is good, because this concerto can be unbearably languorous in more indulgent hands.

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