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MUSIC REVIEW

If we're world class, thank him

At 82, Neville Marriner returns to an L.A. music scene that he helped transform.

February 03, 2007|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

Neville Marriner is said to be the most prolific conductor in the history of recorded music; given the current state of the classical industry, he may well keep that distinction permanently. Many of us were weaned on his enormous catalog, mostly with his Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields -- and even in the iPod era, when we reach for a reference copy of something from the chamber orchestra repertoire, the chances are good that it will be a sparkling Marriner edition.

Less well known is Marriner's role in helping Los Angeles to become a world-class musical city. We sometimes forget that he was the founding conductor of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, staying for nearly a decade and giving the group instant credibility worldwide by making four delectable albums with them (three for Angel and one for Argo). Later on, in the late '80s, he made his American debut as an opera conductor in Rossini's "La Cenerentola" (with Frederica von Stade in the title role) right here, thus giving the fledgling Los Angeles Music Center Opera a big boost. The ingredients were already in place; Marriner simply made them shine and brought them to wider attention.

Now a reasonably vigorous 82, Marriner came back to town this week to find a wealth of changes in place. Instead of the cramped, acoustically parched Mark Taper Forum in which he once toiled, the resonant Walt Disney Concert Hall was on Marriner's side Thursday night. He also found a transformed Los Angeles Philharmonic, which in the Salonen years has become a leaner, more taut, more transparent-sounding ensemble -- in other words, closer to a Marriner-style chamber orchestra.

The sparkle hasn't dimmed in Marriner's musicmaking; it may be a little mellower in manner but he still keeps things moving crisply, choosing tempos that are, more often than not, right on the dot. He gave us a memento of his affinity for Rossini, the Overture to "L'Italiana in Algeri" -- elegantly controlled, perfectly paced, encouraging sharp whacks from the percussion team in the introduction yet producing surprisingly little momentum in the irresistible crescendos.

Following a splendidly sprung, poised entrance from Marriner and the Philharmonic, concertmaster Martin Chalifour played Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 ("Turkish") in a clear-eyed, unsentimental, intelligently articulated manner -- quite acceptable Mozart, if not deeply probing.

With the full orchestra on hand, Marriner turned to Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 ("Scottish") -- fusing the four movements together with virtually no pauses, shaping the secondary theme in the first movement with just the right amount of yearning, clarifying everything. It was typical Marriner -- never fussy or overly willful, keeping the line flowing -- and the Philharmonic responded splendidly.

*

Los Angeles Philharmonic

Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall,

111 S. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 2 p.m. today

Price: $15 to $135

Contact: (323) 850-2000,

www.laphil.com.

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