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MUSIC REVIEW

Believe the hype -- Janine Jansen soars

The young violinist, a download fave, revives a tired Tchaikovsky.

March 22, 2008|Mark Swed | Times Staff Writer

Janine Jansen, who made her Los Angeles Philharmonic debut Thursday night playing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto at Walt Disney Concert Hall, is Holland's contribution to the international tribe of attractive young violinists. Like most of them, she has a first-rate technique but has been marketed for sex appeal. She is statuesque, graceful, sinuous, 30 years old. Vermeer surely would have wanted to paint her. That, though, is not enough these days to stand out as a violin soloist, an occupation for which the unlovely need not apply.

Still, she does stand out. On the Disney stage, Jansen didn't sell her herself, she sold a tired Tchaikovsky vehicle as an irresistibly shiny new model.

I fell in love with this concerto as a child, when I heard Jascha Heifetz play it. He seemed a scary old man who could do things no one else could. He didn't make playing the violin look easy, he made it look impossible, as if he were both crafty magician and superhero. I remember feeling as though I were riding along on his bow, so viscerally involving was every stroke of his arm. That sensation never happened again in Tchaikovsky, and I soon moved on to other music.

Jansen's manner and her style are nothing like Heifetz's. However cool his demeanor, he was still a fiery Russian. She is European and conveys a modern sensibility. But she shares his ability to take a listener on a ride. And I have to return to my youth to recall the same sense of freshness she gave Tchaikovsky on Thursday.

A good part of Jansen's appeal is technical. Even in a field where excellent command of the instrument -- speed, intonation, accuracy and all that -- is taken for granted, she is something special. She is at one with the fiddle, and so quick are her reflexes that, like Heifetz, she can give the impression of bypassing the physical constraints of her instrument. At times, I saw her as a tennis player intently waiting for the orchestra to lob her a theme so she could pounce. Her focus was palpable.

As an interpreter, she is a Dutch modern, which means she doesn't exaggerate. Her tone is neither big nor small. Her vibrato is fast -- expressive but not too expressive. She is gracious with a big Tchaikovsky tune, never sentimental.

Yet one never felt Thursday that she inhabits any middle ground. She does like speed and she does like to soar, and those inclinations are what grab a listener. She creates the impression that liftoff is any second, and in the passages in which she does ascend, gravity is defied.

Jansen is popular with the download crowd. She has invested Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" with freshness as well, and her recording of it has sold justifiably well as a CD and online. But besides picking up the Dutch affinity for early music (her encore Thursday was the Sarabande from Bach's D-minor Partita), she also has the Dutch passion for new music. That both ends of the historical spectrum inform her playing may be her other secret.

Edo de Waart, also Dutch, was the evening's conductor. A regular with the Philharmonic back in the '80s, when he was music director of the San Francisco Symphony, he has since followed strange career paths. After leaving the Bay Area, he led the Minnesota Orchestra, then headed to Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia. Not all those appointments were happy ones. Now he's coming back to the Midwest, taking positions with the Milwaukee Symphony and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

On this occasion, he conducted like a master. He gave Jansen agile support. Particularly pleasing were the solo violin's chamber-music-like rapport with the winds.

For the second half of the program, De Waart led a robust, sweeping account of Schumann's "Rhenish" Symphony. He gave an attention to cellos and basses that pulled the score along. The brass were around to satisfy any thrill-seekers in the audience.

One disappointment was that Chen Qigang's "The Five Elements" was dropped from the program because a rehearsal was lost to a film shoot in Disney this week. Chen is the avant-garde Chinese composer who is music director for the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. One way or another Hollywood looks after its own, since the omission had the advantage of averting controversy. Steven Spielberg recently pulled out as advisor to the ceremonies to protest China's involvement in Darfur.

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mark.swed@latimes.com

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Los Angeles Philharmonic

Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 tonight

Price: $40 to $142

Contact: (323) 850-2000 or www .laphil.com

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