Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Old Masters

March 17, 2007

Two recitals in LA this week were reminders of the benefits of age, even though they may not necessarily be the same ones for all people. Last night REDCAT hosted a recital from 67 year-old cellist Rohan de Saram, formerly of the Arditti Quartet. The program concentrated on contemporary works for solo cello he has championed including Berio’s Sequenza XIV (2002) composed specifically for de Saram and one of the last of the sequenzas Berio completed. The program also featured Elliott Carter’s Figment (1994) and Figment No.2 (2001), Xenakis’ Kottos (1977), and Roger Reynolds’ Focus a beam, emptied of thinking, outward…. This program of difficult music was enthralling largely due to de Saram’s unparalleled technique. Every note seemed assured and rooted in is exact place in pieces where precision is a necessary but dangerously elusive quality. The Kandyan drum-inspired rhythms of the sequenza were stirring and de Saram expertly removed any sense of kitsch from Kottos. Of course there is the matter of the Reyonlds’ piece and I must admit after several exposures, I just can’t seem to wrap my head around his music. But if all of this wasn’t enough, de Saram performed an encore before the intermission of the third movement from Kodaly’s Cello Sonata. It’s not often that the encore is truly a showstopper above and beyond the preceding program’s actual content, but it was here. Considering how great the performance was overall that is saying a lot. The only real drawback to the evening was the second half in which de Saram participated in a performance of Schubert’s String Quintet. Here he was paired with CalArts students and faculty and the folly of youth came roaring to life. Pitchy and uncoordinated, the performance of the group seemed painful compared to the mastery of the first half-of the evening. In the end, it was a reminder of the importance and brilliance of technique won over the years, qualities that de Saram has in abundance.

Another artist with an abundance of wisdom and legendary talent, Alfred Brendel, returned to the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday for the polar opposite of a program that included piano sonatas from Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, and two Schubert Impromptus. Here Brendel’s experience and wisdom shone through with readings that were technically marvelous, but were less about insight and precision, and more about feeling and lyricism. While not necessarily probing, insightful, or detailed, the performances here were amazing for their ability to imbue the works with a real sense of purpose and direction. This was about music being felt but not necessarily examined. This approach certainly has its own attributes and while the Schubert and Beethoven fared well, the Mozart seemed too heavy and somewhat thoughtless. Still, the reverant capacity crowd responded with justified great enthusiasm.

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