Leonidas Kavakos Photo: Yannis Bournias
This weekend is the start of a whole month of the music at Brahms with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under its current music director Gustavo Dudamel. The series goes by the obtuse moniker of “Brahms Unbound,” and pairs Brahms' own masterworks with more recent compositions to imply apparent connections between the two in some cases. This weekend's program, for instance, featured Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 paired with a Dutilleux Violin Concerto, L’Arbre des sognes,
played by Leonidas Kavakos. Yet, following the decidedly rocky results of this first program under the predictably uneven Dudamel, the series might better be called “Brahms Unbearable.” Two seasons into his Los Angeles tenure, what Dudamel had in store for the Brahms’ Symphony, which anchored the evening, should be no surprise to anyone paying attention: tempos so slow that they defied logic, stressful overworking of the smallest details, and a complete lack of pacing and overarching vision for the performance. It was an arduous though not always unpleasant listen. There was good news. The strings were richer and more lustrous sounding than you could imagine at times. Big crescendos got the rise out of players and audience that they deserved. But much was sacrificed to achieve these effects. The first two movements would periodically grind to a near halt. Granted, such an arrest was a blissful promise the audience was denied as Dudamel dove into another moment or passage like he was desperately rummaging around a junk drawer looking for some vital key. If he found what he was looking for, it was anyone’s guess. Granted there are critics in this town that will attempt to convince you that this glacial approach is a youthful exuberance intent on savoring every musical moment. But don’t believe the hype. Sometimes slow is just slow.
The preceding part of the evening was far more successful. Following a full-bodied turn of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture
came the real highlight of the night, Dutilleux’ 1985 L’Arbre des Sognes
which was being played here in Los Angeles for the first time. This seamless four movement violin concerto was played by Leonidas Kavakos and is marked by a sort of nervous energy that eschews long lyrical lines for taut punctuated showers of sound. There are no pauses between the movements, which has an organic feel as if the piece were regenerating itself, growing and changing as it went along. Dutilleux did not intend the work to be a platform for showboating, and the integration between Kavakos and the orchestra was tightly integrated. The performance struck me as having a certain fragility or brittleness that suited it well. One could argue that it was a decidedly un-Brahmsian approach and the concerto provided a nice contrast to the histrionics of the rest of the evening. The shows are heavily sold both for this weekend and the rest of the month. So if you've got a ticket and you like your Brahms stretched out to fill up the maximum time possible, you're going to love this.
Labels: LA Philharmonic 10/11