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Review: L.A. Phil vibrantly explores 'The Planets' at Disney Hall

January 11, 2013|By Richard S. Ginell
  • After "The Planets" performance, concertgoers congregate outside Walt Disney Concert Hall to view the planets provide by Evan Warkentine, left, and the Los Angeles Astronomical Society.
After "The Planets" performance, concertgoers congregate… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

One must remember that it was the stereo LP that finally catapulted Holst’s “The Planets” into international orbit in the 1950s and '60s because recordings could accommodate its crunching cataclysms and quiet, cool mysticism with equal ease and difficult balance problems could be solved with the turn of a dial. The Los Angeles Philharmonic participated in two recordings that helped sell the piece -- one a highly idiosyncratic version with Leopold Stokowski, and the other a famous Zubin Mehta sonic spectacular whose jackets bore the sticker “The Ultimate Trip.”

Yet those who love “The Planets” ought to hear it in a really good acoustical space like Walt Disney Concert Hall, where Russian conductor Vassily Sinaisky and the Philharmonic went at it Thursday night (continuing through Saturday).

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The extroverted movements fared best. “Mars” had just the right deliberate tempo and a menacing momentum that was overwhelming, even spine-chilling, in this hall. “Jupiter” was not too fast, heavy in weight, but free of chest-thumping pomposity; “Uranus” had a good galumphing rhythm and plenty of razzmatazz.  

On the other hand, I missed some of the celestial sensuality in “Venus” -- and “Neptune,” despite a wealth of revealed detail, seemed a bit too immediate, not cold and remote enough.  Also, the women of the Pacific Chorale were cut off abruptly at the close of “Neptune” instead of continuing the long fade into silence (admittedly a tricky task outside the recording studio).

Sinaisky stuck with the Russians in the first part of the evening, producing a rich, darker-than-usual sound from the Philharmonic strings in Liadov’s genial suite, Four Russian Folk Songs, and in the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2.  Always a thoughtful violinist with reliable intonation and a metallic yet singing sheen in his tone, Leonidas Kavakos took a relatively studied, inward-looking approach in Prokofiev -- not exactly on fire, but acceptable.

Outside the hall on Grand Avenue, the Los Angeles Astronomical Society set up four telescopes, and lines of hardy concertgoers braved a freezing wind to view some celestial displays after the concert -- a very nice idea. Alas, only Jupiter and its four brightest moons were visible in the light-polluted L.A. sky, so some of the telescopes focused upon an Orion nebula and the Pleiades cluster. 

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Los Angeles Philharmonic with Leonidas Kavakos and Vassily Sinaisky; Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; $54.50-$189; (323) 850-2000 or www.laphil.com.

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