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Music | REVIEW

Expat leads Bruckner brilliance

November 18, 2005|Daniel Cariaga | Special to The Times

Dennis Russell Davies, away from Southern California for 11 years, returned briefly this week for performances in Costa Mesa and Westwood. The brilliant American conductor, who has been based in Europe for a quarter of a century, this time brought his latest symphonic ensemble, the distinguished Bruckner Orchestra Linz, on its first U.S. tour.

Wednesday night in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Davies led his solid team of Austrian musicians through a bracing program scheduled to be repeated at Royce Hall, UCLA, on Thursday: Erich Korngold's Violin Concerto and the First Symphony of Anton Bruckner.

Some listeners may have preferred other music the orchestra brought on this tour (by Philip Glass, Balduin Fulzer and Elliott Carter), but the concert showed off the players effectively, and Davies' pointed leadership made both works seem relevant, even important, to our time.

Renaud Capucon, a 29-year-old French violinist who has recently burst on the international scene, was the perfectly cast soloist in Korngold's lush, rather irresistible and exhibitionistic concerto. In the 1940s, when it was new, critics called it soupy and sappy; today, it seems perfectly gorgeous and poignant, and written in Korngold's trademark film-music style, not unlike his operatic masterpiece, "Die Tote Stadt."

Capucon played with affection, panache, beautiful detailing and a velvety tone. Davies and the orchestra supported him deftly.

In other hands, Bruckner's ambitious if mercifully brief Symphony No. 1 (46 minutes Wednesday) can seem empty and bombastic. Davies kept this enlightening performance tight, continuously engrossing and emotionally cumulative.

The extended opening Allegro served as a fitting prelude to the deep-thinking slow movement. The Scherzo's many hills and valleys were traveled jauntily and explored with dynamic breadth.

The Linz Orchestra is highly accomplished and uniformly disciplined. Its playing is consistently brilliant and mellow. It plays full out, but always without stridency. Bruckner overwrote the symphony's lengthy finale, but that is to be expected with this composer. One left Segerstrom Hall on Wednesday still smiling.

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