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MUSIC REVIEW

Chamber orchestra gets with (old) times

November 07, 2005|Richard S. Ginell | Special To The Times

Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra once again was asked to convert itself partway into an 18th century period-performance band.

This time, the conductor-instructor was Harry Bicket, who has made a huge reputation in Handel with the Metropolitan Opera and other world-class companies over the last 10 years. Though Los Angeles saw him in 2004 with the Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, it was Bicket's debut with LACO -- and he brought along an excellent program.

By now, the LACO musicians are used to accommodating guest conductors with a specialist bent -- and they are very good at it, the strings broadening and swelling their attacks, decreasing their vibratos almost to the vanishing point. Although they adamantly -- and rightly -- refuse to abandon their "modern" instruments for period ones, at times their sound in the Alex Theatre on Saturday night veered amazingly close to those of the period bands.

That said, Bicket's way did not do justice to Mozart's "Serenata Notturna," with a clipped, blunt treatment of the opening bars and fussy adjustments of dynamics later on. The bizarre timpani cadenza near the end (I've never encountered it in previous performances of the work) was amusing; it sounded like the opening of the Finale of Mahler's Symphony No. 7!

Tempos were surprisingly leisurely in the opening movement of C.P.E. Bach's Flute Concerto in D minor and downright sluggish in the second movement -- marked Un poco Andante, it felt like Molto Adagio -- before Bicket revved up the Finale to a dizzying pace. But nothing seemed to faze the LACO's superb first-desk flutist David Shostac. His probing, expressive entrances enlivened the first two movements, and he displayed fancy articulation at the Finale's hectic tempo.

Bicket was at his best in the concluding work, a half-hour suite from Rameau's last opera, the rarely performed "Les Boreades," which overflows with one fresh orchestral idea after another. He delighted in highlighting Rameau's odd, striking instrumental blends; he was graceful and winning in the lyrical sections; and he whipped up the final section in a rapid-fire romp.

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