Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Another Enigma

April 16, 2011

Nicolaj Znaider

After the celestial highs of programs under the guidance of Thomas Adès over the last two weeks, the Los Angeles Philharmonic returned to more earthly, work-a-day classical music realms this weekend. That is not a bad thing, and an evening including Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and the Elgar Violin concerto was certainly welcomed. Well, at least the Tchaikovsky was. The conductor this weekend is Vassily Sinaisky a familiar face in both London and Moscow where her recently took over as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Bolshoi Theater. He was paired with soloist Nicolaj Znaider, who played the Elgar concerto on the Guarnerius “del Gesu” 1741 violin, which at one time was played by Fritz Kreisler for whom Elgar originally composed the concerto. It's an interesting bit of serendipity that Znaider has been making the most of for over a year now both recording the concerto and playing it all over the world. It might have been even more intriguing if Elgar’s music were a little more enticing. As it stands, this lengthy concerto can often seem meandering with rather sobering and low expectations. It's a work filled with restraint and not an easy nut to crack. Not that there aren’t significant technical demands that Znaider met, but I found his performance somewhat aloof. Znaider is a relatively big man at 6-foot-4 and not prone to demonstrative physicality in his playing. He played using a score and although he's obviously familiar with the piece, I never felt like I was getting any closer to unlocking it as a listener. I found the concerto somewhat dry and removed in tone and rather hard to warm up to.

The Tchaikovsky that followed sounded a bit more convinced of where it was going, and the L.A. Phil players sounded more dug in. Tchaikovsky, of course, is a lot less unclear about the emotional content of things and Sinaisky led a fairly driven and robust performance. There was a strong rhythmic sense throughout and I thought the woodwinds outdid themselves last night especially bassoonist Shawn Mouser and Principal oboe Ariana Ghez. It’s a sizable symphony with an expected big ending that isn't particularly cathartic even in the context of a fairly dramatic performance. But Sinaisky gave the symphony the attention it deserved for a pretty nice evening overall.



I attended yesterday's matinee performance and agree with your assessment of the Elgar concerto.
As to the 4th, well, the orchestra gave it everything, and in the curtain calls, Sinaisky went over and gave Ariana Ghez a kiss on the hand and shook hands with both David Buck and Shawn Mouser. Also, the brass really showed up for this performance, unlike Thursday morning's rehearsal, where they seemed sleepy.
A thrilling performance after the Elgar ramblings.
Perhaps the brass were saving it for the paying customers...
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