Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The Elements of Style

February 20, 2010

Photo: mine 2010

The February "pageant of the masters" continues this weekend with the Los Angeles Philharmonic who welcomed another legendary conductor, Charles Dutoit, to town. It was a really wonderful program of 20th-century works that incorporate folk elements. The program began with Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes, an often quiet series of variations built around a latin theme that allows for numerous solo performances from different players. Written in the 50s, Ginastera abstracts the latin influence in his own way, assigning music that traditionally might belong to a guitar to the harp instead, which plays a central role in the work. It was beautifully played by L.A. Phil harpist Lou Anne Neill and was an absolutely lovely way to start.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me though was the performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand that followed. The soloist was the young Russian Nicolai Lugansky and he should be credited for taking an overly familiar Romantic concerto and presenting it in a way that sounded like it was a completely different piece of music. It was totally new here with an internal idiosyncratic rhythm free of any histrionic flourishes that can easily creep in. It was the polar opposite of the work-a-day take on Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto Louis Lotrie had delivered just two night before. I did notice that Lugansky repeatedly used his right arm and hand to balance himself against the side of the piano while playing which did seem a little like cheating though I'm sure there's no formal written rule about it.

Returning to a work brimming with folk elements, Dutoit then led a very solid version of Stravinsky’s Petrushka. This was also gratefully clear-headed maintaining a lot of the whimsical detail but still swelling with boundless energy and sound. The tinkling carnival music of the opening scene was perfect and the quiet, almost sputtering ending of the performance gave off both a tragic and surreal aura fitting perfectly with the theme. It was a winning night and a very worthwhile performance which you can still catch on Sunday.



Your review is very accurate and to the point. Well done. The Ravel was very special; I've heard the piece once before, and this version was different and more powerful. You explained the reason for this well-- thanks!
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