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New West ventures east

The Ventura-based symphony brings fun -- in the form of little-played classics -- to the Wadsworth.

March 11, 2006|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

From their beachhead in Ventura County, Boris Brott and his New West Symphony have been trying to make inroads into the Westside this season, beginning with a three-concert series at the Wadsworth Theatre.

If Brott keeps coming up with terrific programs and soloists like those he served up Thursday night, he ought to develop a following.

Brott seemed to be pointing out that there is plenty of delightful, audience-friendly music from the middle of the 20th century that record collectors know but concert audiences rarely get a chance to hear -- for reasons of trendiness, snobbery or just plain ignorance.

He started off with one of the most uproarious examples, Jacques Ibert's "Divertissement," in which Mendelssohn and Johann Strauss Jr., progressive purveyors of tone clusters (i.e. banging on the piano), and other sacred cows are kidded and roasted, then interrupted by a brief, dark Nocturne whose haunted depths come from nowhere. "Divertissement" used to be popular but fell into obscurity for the reasons listed above. Brott's leisurely, clearly etched performance was potent enough to give the audience some good -- and pleasantly surprised -- laughs.

Though Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 is heard fairly often, his Concerto No. 2 is not (except for a brief spurt of fame when it was used in "Fantasia 2000") -- and it is even rarer to hear them played in succession.

Here, Brott brought along world-class fellow Canadians, pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin (best known for his recordings of adventurous and treacherously difficult music for Hyperion), and, in the Concerto No. 1, trumpeter Jens Lindemann.

True to his reputation, Hamelin whizzed through the concertos with an effortlessly polished, delicate touch, finding poetry in the slow movements and summoning the moxie to bring out the barnstorming silent-movie jazz near the end of the Concerto No. 1.

Lindemann's finest stretches were his miraculously smooth, muted legatos in the first concerto's Lento movement -- and he and Hamelin exercised credible jazz chops in an encore based on "Basin Street Blues."

Up to this point, the ruthlessly dry, detailed acoustics of Wadsworth revealed some unease in the New West string execution. But matters improved considerably in Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphoses of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber" -- and Brott gave it a secure, rollicking ride.

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