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Shaham does famously with notorious Stravinsky

The violinist handles the composer's difficult concerto with verve and wit -- despite another fire alarm.

January 29, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

The vitality in Stravinsky's Violin Concerto prompted choreographer George Balanchine to make two great ballets. Stravinsky called the first, "Balustrade," premiered in 1941, "one of the most satisfactory visualizations of any of my theater works." But the prodigally creative Balanchine forgot it, so he choreographed a new version for the New York City Ballet's 1972 Stravinsky Festival commemorating his composer friend a year after his death.

He might have wanted to make a third ballet after hearing the exhilarating performance by violinist Gil Shaham and the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Hans Graf on Friday at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Shaham's verve, clarity, insouciant wit and sheer joy of performance of this notoriously difficult work prevailed even over -- believe it or not -- another false fire alarm. But unlike buzzers and lights that went off during intermission at violinist Hilary Hahn's recital Jan. 21, this one interrupted the first of the two lyrical middle movements.

Many in the orchestra and the audience began evacuating until an announcement was made that everything was all right. L.A. Philharmonic Assn. President Deborah Borda came on stage to apologize, and Graf, after returning to the podium to resume the concert, said, "Better this way than a real fire."

The cause, according to Philharmonic spokesman Adam Crane, was smoke from the kitchen in the Patina restaurant on the first floor, which set off sensors in the air ducts.

Shaham, Graf and company began the second movement over again as if nothing had happened, and in fact no one's concentration seemed broken.

Turning slightly now and again toward members of the orchestra, the bobbing and sunny Shaham emphasized the work's chamber-music qualities. Dialogues on the fly with principals are one of the extra gifts of this invigorating work. Shaham and concertmaster Martin Chalifour had every reason to be particularly pleased with each other's matched contributions.

But there were many other such moments, and Graf was equally a partner in this precise and wonderful dance.

Things were much more problematic in two other works on the program, Tchaikovsky's "Hamlet" fantasy-overture after Shakespeare, which opened the concert, and Schumann's Symphony No. 2, which closed it.

After beginning with a forceful assertion of the melancholy prince's sadness and impetuous emotion, Graf kept the music at a high dynamic level that disallowed nuances or pushed further climaxes to near pain levels. Of course, it wasn't really an endless series of triple fortes; it only seemed that way. Oboist Marion Arthur Kuszyk, however, rightfully deserved her solo bow for her plaintive account of the Ophelia theme.

The Schumann performance was honest and plain-spoken but somewhat chunky, with awkward shifts in dynamic -- perhaps a result of Graf's big and broad gestures -- though there were fine moments in executing hairpin transitions in the scherzo. But more emotional indulgence overall -- and in Tchaikovsky -- would have been more satisfying.

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