Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

In the Dark, but not Alone

April 06, 2009

Bernard Labadie, Martin Chalifour, and
Richard Paré with the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

There is life beyond Wagner, and here in L.A. that meant the show going on across the street this weekend at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In the last show before the final concerts under Esa-Pekka Salonen, the orchestra was joined by Canadian conductor and early music specialist Bernard Labadie who brought us works from Handel and Haydn in an enjoyable if not always a barn-burning evening. The order of the day seemed to be moderate curiosities or at least not completely obvious choices. First up was Handel’s Organ Concerto in D minor with soloist Richard Paré. The work is unusual, as Labadie explained from the stage, in that Handel wrote it primarily to perform himself leaving stretches of the organ part to be played from memory or improvised later on as he saw fit. Additionally, Handel would borrow both from himself, or in this case Telemann, as necessary to get the point across. In this version, Paré augmented with bits from the Messiah in a solid and brisk run through. The French Canadian influence continued into the next piece, Haydn’s Violin Concerto in C played by L.A. Phil concertmaster, Martin Chalifour. On the heels of Johannes Moser’s very lyrical and impressive performance of Haydn's Cello Concerto just last week, it was a tough comparison. But Chalifour is no slouch, and Haydn’s music was well served.

After the intermission was the second trip off the beaten path with an orchestral version of Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross. Like The Creation this is Biblical material given the full 18th-century treatment with all the restraint and polish of a royal visitation. Labadie set up a scenario to evoke the original performance context where the piece was given on Good Friday in a cathedral darkened save for one chandelier. Here, all the house lights were dimmed for the next hour and a speaker, William Christian, was hired to read relevant Biblical passages to accompany the movements in the work. While the Disney Concert Hall has been used for maximal effect in theatrical ways to augment performances of nearly everything, it was a nice reminder that over-the-top theatrical tendencies are hardly new. Again, the performance was well controlled and passionate. But this is music from a different era and all things being equal, "stirring" today is not what it was 200 or so years ago. Labadie made the most of the evening, though, and deserves recognition for putting together a program worth thinking about as well as hearing. He’ll return to L.A. later this year to reprise performances of the Messiah with Les Violons du Roy and La Chapelle du Québec featuring David Daniels around the Holidays.


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