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Music review: David Robertson's graceful guest turn with L.A. Phil

April 07, 2013|By Richard S. Ginell
  • David Robertson conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in Costa Mesa last month.
David Robertson conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in Costa Mesa… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)

Those who couldn’t make the trek to Costa Mesa to catch David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony last month were in luck this last weekend, for D-Rob -- as he is whimsically called by some in St. Louis -- turned up Friday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  As often happens, he came with new music in hand -- and also with his wife, pianist Orli Shaham, to play it with him.

The piece was Steven Mackey’s piano concerto (a Philharmonic co-commission) “Stumble to Grace,” in which the premise is a would-be pianist making the first stumbling, fumbling efforts to learn how to play, eventually blooming into a polished virtuoso.  

Though the piece has a clearly plotted structure, the progression was not linear, as the pianist seemed to acquire an uncanny ability to play tricky cross-rhythms early on, regressing to a simpler state in the cadenza at the dead-center point of the concerto. 

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As always, Mackey combined a plethora of influences -- including some apparently Vince Guaraldi-inspired funky rhythms in the cadenza -- with his usual flair for unusual orchestral colors and effects (the “West Side Story”-like police whistle in the final section). 

The Philharmonic offered the first of a mere three pieces that it is contributing to the Britten centennial this year, the Four Sea Interludes from “Peter Grimes” -- heard in full glorious detail onstage instead of from the usual opera pit (historical trivia: The first L.A. Phil performance was led by Britten himself in 1949).  Robertson ran the interludes together quickly without a pause, generating a lot of gusto and broiling energy, although some lingering in spots would have made them even more evocative.

Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in the standard Ravel orchestration wrapped up the night, with a few Robertson quirks in tempo but also considerable sweep and an extroverted “Great Gate at Kiev” coda.

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