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MUSIC REVIEW

Brahms, pianist Tomsic triumphant in Pasadena

November 10, 2003|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

With heroic power and Olympian vision, pianist Dubravka Tomsic opened the Pasadena Symphony concert Saturday at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium with a majestic account of Brahms' D-minor Concerto.

A student of Artur Rubinstein, who died in 1982 at 95, the Slovenian pianist was reintroduced to American audiences four years ago, after a nearly 30-year hiatus. Lucky for us. Like Rubinstein, Tomsic has utter command of the keyboard. She sees music in wholes, not parts. She is Apollo, not Dionysus.

On this occasion, she didn't indulge in finicky details of nuance and color, nor offer an idiosyncratic personal vision or empty rhetoric. She relied on the vaulting architectural strength of the music, playing with phenomenal strength and clarity, whether in the melting series of ascending trills that closed the second movement or the perilous galloping Gypsy rhythms that opened the third.

Conductor Jorge Mester made sure that she and orchestra were knitted together in a dynamic, seamless whole. It was one of their finest hours.

Everyone was helped by being placed more forward on the stage than usual to accommodate the battery of percussion instruments required in Britten's "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra," which closed the program. At the season opening concert last month, the lower strings knocked themselves out in Beethoven's "Leonore" Overture No. 3, but their impact didn't match their effort. This time, details, relationships and power came through.

Mester capitalized on the acoustical clarity in reseating the strings for a sumptuous reading of Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," the middle work on the three-part program. Scored for three groups -- large and small "orchestras" and a string quartet -- for antiphonal effects, the work eerily mixes folk and church sonorities with suggestions of the emptiness of outer space. The quartet consisted of the orchestra's string principals -- violinists Aimee Kreston and Lisa Sutton, violist Janet Lakatos and cellist Douglas Davis.

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