Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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On Balance

January 24, 2009

 
Giuliano Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra
Photo: mine 2009

The first programs offered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic this week following a spectacular run of shows over the last two weeks under Esa-Pekka Salonen were a decidedly mixed bag. Following Tuesday’s very good Green Umbrella program of contemporary works, Walt Disney Concert Hall was thrown decidedly into reverse with a performance from Giuliano Carmignola and his Venice Baroque Orchestra featuring music from Vivaldi, a decidedly long-deceased composer. However, this, too, was quite a treat. While the group has been here before with largely the same shtick, it doesn’t get old. The Venice Baroque Orchestra’s playing remains crisp, dynamic, and well paced. Carmignola never overplays Vivaldi’s hand and lets the music do what it was intended. His solo work in the four violin concertos on the program was also quite admirable with a light enough touch without skimping in the energy department.

Denève and the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

Speaking of violin soloists, however, Gil Shaham had a much less successful stint in this weekends shows with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Stéphane Denève. Shaham did the dirty work in the Khachaturian violin concerto with a technically admirable performance that really failed to connect. It wasn’t all his problem, though, in that Denève led one of the most torpid and arduous performances I’ve heard here in awhile. (That is, if you exclude Mr. Dudamel) Let’s put it this way, you know that you are in serious trouble over the course of an evening when you start thinking, “Well, maybe the Rachmaninoff will be better.” It wasn’t. The Syphonic Dances, like the Khachaturian, is one of those later-romantic messes that cries out for someone to step in to temper the histrionics. Instead, Denève plunged head in stretching out every last half-baked idea beyond the breaking point and adding what seemed like hours to a reasonably short program. I’ve come to really enjoy the maestro’s performances in L.A. over the last few years, but this was not one of them. The show also featured Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” concerto, a bit of tepid Americana à la Copland that didn’t help matters either.

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Comments:

I went to the Thursday morning rehearsal for this program and followed it up with the press conference at 1:30, which was the "highlight" of the day.
All 3 works on that program should be forgotten. I cannot imagine anyone making that Rach mess significantly better, while Gil did fine enough in the violin concerto, wandering all over the place in the process, but the work does not show his strengths.
I'm not sure which, if any, conductor would have made the works that much more interesting. Chad Smith should rethink that program and remember for the future.
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