Los Angeles Philharmonic

    Pablo Heras-Casado, guest conductor
    Kate Royal, soprano soloist
    21 March 2009
    Walt Disney Concert Hall
    Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4
    Mahler: Symphony No. 4

    By Fred Granlund  

      The 200th anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn went by a few weeks ago, and the Los
    Angeles Philharmonic seems to be observing that event (without any formal announcement) by
    including a substantial amount of his music on the February and March programs. James Conlon
    conducted an all-Mendelssohn concert last month featuring the familiar Violin Concerto with
    Sarah Chang, and both of his piano trios and some works for string quartet have appeared on
    the Philharmonic Chamber Music series, all leading up to performances of his two most popular
    symphonies: the "Italian" on this program and the "Scottish" next week. It's a lot of exposure in a
    short time, especially for someone many consider to be something of a "lightweight" composer,
    but since few listeners will attend all these concerts it's mostly a chance for everyone to hear and
    contemplate, and perhaps re-assess, some of his music.

    This concert provided a useful contrast between Mendelssohn's musical postcard from sunny
    Italy and Gustav Mahler's sunniest work, his own Fourth Symphony. Yuri Temirkanov, the
    evening's intended conductor, bowed out for unexplained "personal reasons" (at least we can be
    relatively sure they weren't political reasons, as beset Russian musicians in earlier times) and his
    replacement was yet another in the current series of emerging young conductors with
    hyphenated names visiting here, the 31-year old Spaniard Pablo Heras-Casado. Associated with
    opera companies and orchestras around Europe as well as in Spain, he made his Philharmonic
    debut on this occasion.

    The results were stimulating and encouraging. Mendelssohn's symphony emerged crisp and
    brisk (as it should) and a little impersonal: a polished performance, with all the details in place
    and the customary brilliant playing from the orchestra, but with little imprint of the conductor (one
    assumes that allowing the horns and timpani to overbalance the strings wasn't an interpretive
    decision). But the Mahler symphony on the second half of the program was a different experience
    entirely. Perhaps pinch-hitting for another conductor obliged him to learn the work quickly--he
    conducted from the score, unlike in the Mendelssohn--but here the music sounded freshly-
    discovered, the composer's detailed directions (calling for a momentary pause here, a burst of
    speed there, and a million adjustments in tone and expression) not merely followed but integrated
    into an interpretation very much at one with the spirit of the music. Again the Philharmonic played
    with power and precision, but also with a depth and sensitivity that reaffirmed the players'
    collective affinity with Mahler's singular musical aesthetic, incorporating everything from the
    popular music of his day to the most sublime inspirations ("the whole world," in the composer's
    words) into a coherent if not completely homogenized whole. The soloist in the final movement,
    the young British soprano Kate Royal, was also making her Philharmonic debut on this occasion.
    Already a veteran of many performances with the Royal Opera, the Glyndebourne Festival, the
    English National Opera and festivals around Europe, she approaches Mahler's little song about a
    child's vision of Heaven with a bright, clear voice and a good deal of dramatization--not exactly
    the most logical choice, but effective in the context of such a vivid orchestral performance. As
    always, the Disney Hall audience was very appreciative, and the conductor made a point of
    sharing the applause with the orchestra, in particular with it's matchless principal players.

    Next week, the mini-Mendelssohn festival continues with Herbert Blomstedt conducting the
    composer's symphonic masterpiece, the "Scottish" Symphony, along with works by Handel and
    Haydn--and we highly recommend these and all the upcoming concerts to our readers. The best
    music in the best performances, heard in the best acoustics, anywhere around, just steps from
    the Metro stop and easy to reach. Student and senior rush tickets are still only $10--the best
    bargain in town.
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