Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Light as a Feather

March 11, 2010

Anne Sofie von Otter, Myung-Whun Chung, and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Photo: mine 2010

This year’s UCLA Live performing arts series has been lighter than usual in the classical music department. In fact Wednesday’s appearance from the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France is just about the only large ensemble appearing in this season’s offerings. But gratefully, it was a notable one. The orchestra appeared with music director Myung-Whun Chung who is no stranger to French ensembles or composers over the course of his career. So the decision to plan an all-Ravel program on this trip to LA certainly played to the performers’ strengths even if it was essentially a greatest hits evening - the complete Ma mere l’Oye, Daphnis et Chloé Suites 1 and 2, La Valse, and Schéhérazade with guest vocalist Anne Sofie von Otter.

But greatest hits are greatest hits for a reason, and the Philharmonique played with such lightness and polish they were hard to resist. The attacks were so controlled and subtle that at times the playing seemed like breathing. It was as natural and pure with a total lack of self-consciousness. There were still plenty of dynamics, but the shifts were seamless. As lovely and masterful as it was; though, there is a down side. Sometimes that much effervescence can lead to everything blowing away and disappearing into thin air. Chung’s guidance could also leave few clear edges to hold onto as well. But there was ample beauty. Von Otter was quite good throughout Schéhérazade. The last two times I’ve caught her live, she sang either Carmen or Brangäne, and the Ravel seemed a better fit for her. She sang with a rich tone and a vulnerability that grabbed the audience. It was certainly the highlight of the evening.


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