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MUSIC REVIEW

Effortless beauty, savored

October 31, 2005|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Andras Schiff proved a deft and sensitive conductor and, as usual, a superb pianist in a Los Angeles Philharmonic concert Friday at Walt Disney Concert Hall. From the podium, he led Mendelssohn's String Symphony No. 10, composed when Felix was all of 14, and Schumann's "Spring" Symphony. From the keyboard, he directed Schumann's "Introduction and Allegro Appassionato" and Haydn's Piano Concerto in D.

This season's new seating of the strings -- first violins, basses and cellos to the conductor's left; violas and second violins to the right -- has revealed even more transparency and balance in the orchestra's sound, allowing us to bask anew in the hall's acoustics.

Schumann has a reputation for poor, muddy orchestration. But there was nothing clotted in the unfolding of the "Introduction and Allegro" -- from Schiff's angelic opening arpeggios and William Lane's graceful French horn solo through the continuous addition of instrumental groups, up to the final heroic call to arms.

Similarly, the many beauties in the score of the "Spring" Symphony could be effortlessly savored. Schiff conducted with an almost Stokowskian luxury of sonority, but without forgoing a sense of tightness and excitement or, in the finale, a feeling of joyful naivete and innocence.

Only one movement of Mendelssohn's early string symphony has survived, but it's enough to reveal the composer's mastery of form and invention at an early age. Scholars maintain that Mendelssohn in his teens achieved a sophistication greater than Mozart did at a comparable age. Maybe so, but the sophistication did not develop comparably. Schiff led a polished, understated performance that perhaps could have dug a bit deeper or pushed contrasts to more extremes.

In Haydn's Concerto in D, Schiff came into his glorious own, revealing the wit, brightness, presence, nuance and insight that make his recorded Mozart cycle with Sandor Vegh such a treasure. The pianist wrote his own cadenzas, slyly inserting into one of them the famous Haydn "Surprise" Symphony theme.

There was a moment of confusion after Schumann's "Introduction and Allegro," when Schiff returned to the keyboard as if to continue instead of breaking for the intermission.

The orchestra planned to change the sequence Saturday and Sunday, a spokeswoman said, putting the intermission after the Haydn concerto. When he realized his mistake, Schiff shrugged with his typical modesty and walked offstage. The audience applauded him with renewed warmth.

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