Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The Big Show

April 02, 2010

Semyon Bychkov and the L.A. Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2010

I’m back from New York and my first stop is at the Walt Disney Concert Hall for this weekend’s L.A. Philharmonic program featuring conductor Semyon Bychkov and Mahler’s 5th Symphony. If my memory serves me, the last time this particular piece was heard on this stage was an auspicious if generally unpleasant occasion when Gustavo Dudamel led the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra through an overwrought thrashing of the score. And while I wasn’t having to dodge escaping audience members this time around, I can’t say the Bychkov’s approach was a decidedly preferable alternative to that particular sideshow. (I saw a handful of audience members bail on this one as well though there were far more empty seats to begin with on this evening.) Bychkov is no stranger to Mahler, but I’ll admit he is not the first conductor that jumps to mind when you think of this pinnacle of German Romanticism. In fact he doesn't leap to mind with most things, although he makes the rounds at major stages around the world including several West Coast appearances both here and in San Francisco. I’ve heard him conduct Shostakovich in the past with a fair amount of bombast so I entered the Mahler with some trepidation.

To my surprise, this was a remarkably restrained account of the 5th Symphony. In fact maybe it was a little too restrained. There were some lovely moments tonight, particularly in the second and fifth movements. There were certainly a clear sense of dynamics throughout. However, particularly in the first and third movements, I often felt like the overall line of the music was lost amidst a million little pieces. Phrases were left unconnected as if they were all independent entities and not related in a larger whole. If the 5th Symphony is in fact a journey, there will certainly be stops along the way, but there should also be a sense of actually going somewhere. There were some really wonderful contributions from the many fine L.A. Philharmonic players. Principal Horn William Lane sounded especially clear and warm and the brass overall was on top of their game. The program repeats Friday and Saturday.



I thought it was pretty darn great.

Without being rushed, it was taut & dark. And super detailed.
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