It has been almost a year since I last attended a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Yesterday’s concert of Beethoven and John Adams reminds me (as if I needed reminding) that I really would enjoy going to see the Philharmonic more frequently. So much music, so little time!
The concert, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, opened with the Beethoven Fifth Piano Concerto, a war horse if ever there was one, with Leif Ove Andsnes as soloist. This was my first time seeing Dudamel on the podium and he and the orchestra gave a good, if somewhat restrained, account of themselves, with Andsnes front and center during the Concerto. What a performance Andsnes gave, featuring superb dynamic control and some otherworldly pianissimi – particularly in the transition between the second and third movements and at the final, hushed passage before the rip-roaring conclusion. Strong, classic Beethoven, and very satisfying.
I have been listening to a lot of Adams lately so I was interested in hearing his piece Harmonium, scored for full chorus – lots of percussion, winds and strings, with texts by John Donne and Emily Dickinson. Dudamel, restrained in the Beethoven Concerto, was going for broke in the Adams and the piece was ultimately a wild ride. In the end, I am not certain quite how I felt about the piece. Lots of ebb and flow without exactly granting us a climax, but it contains some really beautiful passages and it is a piece I would love to hear it again.
The concert closed with Beethoven Choral Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, a sort of practice run for the later Ninth Symphony, again with Leif Ove Andsnes as piano soloist. Dudamel whipped the orchestra into a frenzy, Andsnes again delivered a rousing performance at the keyboard and the massed finale for piano solo, vocal sextet, chorus and orchestra – all set to a text extolling the virtues of music and art – was quite powerful. This masterful combination elevated a piece of music that, in lesser hands, might seem almost trite into something altogether moving and satisfying.
It was a fitting conclusion to a excellent concert experience.
Incidentally, for the past four years, Andsnes has been deeply immersed in Beethoven’s concertos, part of what he calls “The Beethoven Journey”. This concert was part of a world wide tour and a new series of recordings on Sony Classical devoted to Beethoven’s piano concertos and Choral Fantasy. For more information on this artist, please visit Leif Ove Andsnes’ personal website.
Review by Jeffrey Roberts.