YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


An intense piece, a similar response

March 15, 2004|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Conductors often introduce new music from the stage these days, but seldom with the emotional intensity Long Beach Symphony Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke showed Saturday at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach. Diemecke sounded on the verge of tears as he spoke about James MacMillan's "The Confession of Isobel Gowdie."

The piece was written, he said, as a memorial to a woman -- one of about 4,500 people -- tortured and put to death for witchcraft during the Protestant Revolution in 17th century Scotland. Diemecke entreated the audience to join his prayer not to let such events happen again.

The 20-minute work, composed in 1990, falls into three unequal parts: a prayerful section that opens and closes it and a long middle that depicts the torture. It ends with a huge crescendo on a single note, evoking a similar moment in Berg's opera "Wozzeck," that intentionally provides no emotional resolution.

Although a few people reflexively began to applaud at that point, Diemecke stood still as a rock, his hands outstretched. The clapping instantly stopped, and most of the audience sat in silence until he let his arms drop to the side. Then the response was tumultuous.

The piece is powerful, but it is also problematic. The prayerful sections are sophisticated in layered, close, long-held harmonies that in no way sound treacly and are punctuated by nervous shudders in the lower strings. The torture section builds great tension by not erupting too quickly into the expected percussive blasts. But when they come, they come with great frequency and go on for a long time.

At a certain point, though, they lose their impact and begin to sound merely like constructed music, with borrowings from Stravinsky and rock. The score, however well-intentioned, gives evidence that there are horrors to which music, which is an abstract art, may not do justice.

The rest of the three-part program was more conventional. Pascal Roge was the fluent and polished, if un-adventuresome, soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25.

Diemecke opened the evening with Elgar's 1921-22 transcription of Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in C minor. It's dated, it's anachronistic, and it's wonderful.

He opened the second half with his now typically masterly account of Elgar's "Enigma" Variations.

Los Angeles Times Articles