By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor; Karina Gauvin, soprano
Dvorak: Nocture in B Major; Britten: Les Illuminations, Now sleeps the crimson petal
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)
Saturday, October 15, 2011 at Alex Theater
Next concert: Tonight at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA
Last night’s concert by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was not only illuminating and well played, it also proved to be a quintessential example of the rich diversity of orchestral music that regularly pops up in Southern California.
Friday night, the Los Angeles Philharmonic — with 90 or so musicians on stage — began with the swirling mists of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. 2 and ended with the smashing chords of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Last night, LACO — with two-dozen string players on the Alex Theater stage — began with a single cello line (played elegantly by Andrew Shulman), the opening notes of Dvorak’s Nocture in B Major. We knew immediately that we weren’t in Russia anymore (or in Walt Disney Concert Hall, either).
Such diversity is, of course, one of the great strengths of LACO, which for 43 years — and particularly in the last 15 with Jeffrey Kahane as music director — has carved out a distinct niche in the local (and national) landscape with innovative programs beautifully played. Last night was a prime example of both qualities.
After Dvorak’s meanderings set a quiet, shimmering prologue, French-Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin came onstage as the ravishing soloist in Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations. This work, which LACO was playing for the fifth time, is the English composer’s 1939 setting of nine of 42 poems written by French poet Arthur Rambaud who Kahane, in his preconcert lecture, called the “Father of Modernism” (as Christine Lee Gengaro noted in her program-book essay, Rimbaud influenced such disparate 20th century artists as Pablo Picasso, Allen Ginsburg, Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison).
Gauvin, a tall, statuesque blond, sang the poems with a rich middle register and gleaming top. She also invested the set with great emotion, especially in Royauté and Parade. The final poem, Départ, which comes immediately after Parade, was hauntingly beautiful as Gauvin intoned the lines “Seen enough … Had enough … Known enough … Leaving for new affection and noise” with poignant reflection.
After Les Illuminations, Gauvin returned for what amounted to a planned encore: Britten’s setting of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Now sleeps the crimson petal. Gauvin (who had sung Les Illuminations from memory but used a score for the Tennyson poem) was equally impressive in this five-minute work, which was being performed by LACO for the first time. In both pieces, Kahane and the strings offered delicate, evocative accompaniment for Gauvin, aided in Now sleeps the crimson petal by David Everson on French horn (Britten originally wrote the piece to be part of his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings but it was ultimately not included in that work).
After intermission, Kahane and Co. turned to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). This was part of Kahane’s inaugural concert as LACO in music director in 1997 as the curly haired conductor was determined to send LACO beyond the “traditional” chamber orchestra repertoire of baroque and early classical period music. Actually, as Kahane noted in his preconcert lecture, the 39 musicians on stage last night represented about the size of orchestra that Beethoven would have used in the first performances of this landmark symphony, which was completed in 1804.
Although the smaller-sized ensemble means a reduction in the kind of weight and heft we normally associate with contemporary performances of the Eroica, the ultra-brisk tempos that Kahane prefers for his Beethoven performances sound better with reduced forces anyway. The first movement emphasized the brio in the Allegro con brio tempo marking and the third movement was ultra-vivace. Even the second movement was more of a brisk jog rather than a funeral march. In the final movement, things broadened out just a touch and the entire performance finished with a fine sense of majesty. The orchestra seemed to take all of this calmly in stride, bringing a sense of crisp élan to the entire performance, which elicited a thunderous ovation from the audience.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.
"Our DSO to Go app has not only helped our live webcasts reach tremendous success around the globe, but has been an accessible sales channel for many first-time concertgoers without prior ticket or contribution history."