L.A. Phil demonstrated a range of unflashy, ardent virtuosities over the last two weeks of January.
First the All-Reich celebration on the 17th. I needed this. Even better, the Mallet Quartet (2009) might be Reich’s most cheerful work. There is just enough dryness, relentlessness and repetition to retain credibility. But it’s also more in touch with pop traditions, from do-wop on. The ending is ecstatic.
The newest item on the program, Pulse (2015) doesn’t care about credibility at all. It’s not only pop, but light pop, a Reichian version of Michel Legrand’s Umbrellas of Cherborg.
In Tehillim (1981), the Synergy Vocals female quartet of singers was beyond praise. Precise, warm, animated, incisive. I can’t imagine a better performance. And what music! The best vocalists-plus-ensemble music since Mahler.
Then on the 28th there was a matinee with Emanuel Ax. Ax’s amiable stage presence dispels every hint of drama. His art hides his art. He makes so little show of his performance, he tricks you into thinking its no big deal. But it’s an enormous deal.
For instance, I can’t imagine a better presentation of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto (1942). His command of the music is absolute. He was on top of all of the various moods: angst, festivity, ferocity, bemusement, introspection, exclamation. The cadenzas were especially beautiful—the one after the big brass explosion, and the other at the end of the 3rd movement, before the quick-step 4th begins.
For all its serialism, it’s no more challenging than a Richard Strauss tone poem. And a good deal better humored than that. The audience roared its approval.
I can’t help think that AS heard be-bop or at least some progressive jazz. It’s pop as pop as he ever got (after the cabaret songs). It’s also a film score, but instead of an expressionist cinematic nightmare, this time to an atmospheric American noir thriller.
It’s a work of reconciliation. It’s morning. Yawning and looking out at the new day. City not countryside. Irritations, demands, but not torment. Rather sweet. Almost Elmer or Leonard Bernstein. Mid-century blues. You can absolutely imagine Oscar Levant (to whom we owe its conception) playing it.
The concert began with Accompaniment to a Film Scene (1930). Dudamel and the L.A. Phil delineated each gesture, every contrast and transition with nuance and grace. It is breathlessly fast-paced, the moods shifting abruptly from tenderness to terror, pathos to exhilaration. And each passage—or scene—is densely packed with dissonance, polyrhythm, polyphony. There’s a whole epic here. The implied movie is a tumultuous Fritz Lang thriller.
Then Ax did Mozart’s Piano Concerto #14. His Mozart is not a proto-expressionist, but always in keeping. There’s a focus on the whole, rather than the most theatrically effective bits.
The concert ended with Dudamel leading a reduced L.A. Phil in Mozart’s Paris symphony (#31). This was a surprise. I didn’t think Dudamel or the Phil had any special affinity for Mozart. But Ax’s example obviously informed their performance. It avoided obvious show-off stuff, in favor giving the whole work unity. The rhythmic liveliness was especially marked—it danced along—but not too much. It was earnest and warm, but not headlong. Lucid, but not pedantic. More, please!