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Remember When

April 22, 2011

Juraj Valcuha

Yefim Bronfman’s visits to the Los Angeles Philharmonic tend to be special occasions. He played a wide variety of works on the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage, some that stand out in my memory more than others. I was particularly fond of his Shostakovich First Piano Concerto, which seemed to thrive under his muscular, emphatic approach. Considering the works he has performed that I’ve been most taken with, I would not have thought the Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto scheduled for this weekend would have been among them. But that’s one of the great things about this music, you never can tell. Bronfman’s Brahms was in a word thrilling. From beginning to end, he was forceful but never to the point that it was overwhelming. Both the first and second movements had that perfect combination of effortlessness and bold assurance that is a joyful rarity. Better yet, Bronfman was well matched with Juraj Valcuha in his conducting debut with the L.A. Philharmonic. Valcuha is another young and very handsome young man who has a rising profile and will be making many debut performances with the world's major orchestras over the next two season. This performance for one bodes quite well for his future. Bronfman was well complemented for so many years in his collaborations here with Esa-Pekka Salonen, and this young Slovakian seemed to have a similar musical disposition in terms of both clarity and finish resulting in a performance that was so well integrated that it was often surprising this was a concerto at all.

Valcuha displayed the same strengths in the first half of the evening as well in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1. This is not the most familiar of works for a composer who often suffers the contempt of listeners precisely because of their familiarity. It can also be said that it may not be as satisfying as those same ballets and symphonies. There are some lovely winter wonderland moments in the first movement, however, and Valcuha did his best to make the most of them. He seemed more concerned about clarity and detail overall, and while more could have been made of the Scherzo and Finale, I was very appreciative of this decidedly less overheated approach overall. The evenings where this kind of control and subtlety are a priority are few and far between these days on the L.A. Phil stage, and this is a program not to be missed for those who miss those qualities in our local and beloved orchestra.



I attended the concerts on 4/28 and 4/29. The Brahms piano concerto on the 28th was substandard. Bronfman said he was tired, and it showed. The cello solo was shmaltzy. April 29th was a different story, despite being at the odd hour of 11 a.m. Bronfman was spot-on with the Brahms, with a performance that was both muscular and lyrical. The cello solo was excellent, too. LA Phil has some excellent musicians, particularly the principal oboe. I wish they had played with more energy. Perhaps, under Dudamel's baton, they do.
Just a tiny clarification for the record: LA Phil's principal oboist did not perform with the orchestra that week at all. The first oboe part was played by the orchestra's associate principal.
A curious thing: LA Times' review combined with readers' comments on it suggest exactly the opposite situation - that the Thursday evening concert was performed much better than the Friday matinee. Aren't complete disagreements wonderful?
I am with everyone else on this one. I saw Thursday's program and thought it was great. Didn't see Friday and can't speak to that. I am super excited to see Afhkam fill in for the ailing Jaap van Zwenden this weekend as well.
You may be "with everyone else", but certainly not with DianeR who did not like last Thursday concert.
Those who are excited about this weekend may get a bit of a preview tonight when David Afkham is conducting Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
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