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Los Angeles Philharmonic

Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, guest conductor
22 November 2008
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Mozart: Serenata notturna
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8
Respighi: Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome          

By Fred Granlund

Since its return from touring the Far East, the Philharmonic has hosted a parade of guest conductors, each for
a single week of concerts and each leading their own musical specialties. The common thread is that those
specialties tend to be sonic spectaculars of the sort the orchestra and audience thrive on: Miguel Harth-Bedoya
in Revueltas, Thomas Ades in his own music (plus Berlioz) and--this week--Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos in
Respighi's most familiar Roman extravaganzas.

By conrast, the first half of the program offered more traditional, if quirky, fare: Mozart's miniature "Serenata
notturna," scored for a tiny orchestra of strings and two kettledrums with a solo quartet of violins, viola and
bass; and Beethoven's Eighth Symphony, wherein the usually stern composers treats us to his singularly
sophisticated sense of humor. The serenade is certainly a congenial work, though its brevity (the typical
example provides an hour of dinner music, this one barely a quarter of that) and eccentricities of scoring might
well have distracted the Archbishop's guests from their dinner party. Here it made a lively impression, with
soloists Martin Chalifour, Mark Kashper, Carrie Dennis and Christopher Hanulik making sparkling contributions
and even improvising some tasteful ornaments, and Maestro Fruhbeck encouraging it all with vague gestures
that essentially left the players to make chamber music together. That approach worked splendidly for Mozart,
of course, but more surprisingly served quite well all evening, even when the orchestra had swelled from
20-or-so here to over 100 by the end of the program.

Following Mozart, the Beethoven-sized orchestra now filled about half the stage, and gave a performance that
was at once lithe and athletic as well as warm and expressive. Here Maestro Fruhbeck provided more than
general encouragement, highlighting some of the music's surprises and springing an imaginative array of
tempo adjustments (of the sort Beethoven was reported to have used in his own conducting). Especially
effective was the final movement, with its comically intrusive unison C-sharps drawn out and timpanist Joseph
Pereira playing the Great Kettledrum Joke (an outrageous, fortissimo outburst on two drums an octave apart,
with mallets flying everywhere) to the hilt.

After Intermission, the stage filled completely for Respighi's Technicolor tributes to his adopted home city. The
music of the Fountains of Rome and the Pines of Rome (curiously listed in reverse order in the program book)
alternates between the exquisitely ethereal and the brazenly bombastic, with much drama and poetry in
between. It's a recipe that has served several generations of composers well, whether writing for the concert
hall or the cinema, but Respighi's examples are still the most spectacular. Maestro Fruhbeck has been touring
with these works for several seasons now, performing them with orchestras all over the world. But it's hard to
imagine a combination of orchestra and hall to rival the Philharmonic and Disney, and the results were quite
memorable. Perhaps the recorded nightingale was a bit too present as heard over the hall's PA system, and
the powerful Disney Hall organ doesn't meekly accept a subservient role as a few moments in these scores
seem to suggest, but the orchestra sounded sensational throughout. Don Green's gorgeous offstage trumpet
solo wafted in from heaven itself, Michele Zukovsky's clarinet solos were quite awesome, and the rest of the
soloists covered themselves with glory. As the Roman legions marched up the Appian Way to their destination,
the additional brass section took over the organ loft and provided the last layer of brilliance to the blazing
finale. The audience, predictably enough, went wild.

Next week, the guest conductor will be the orchestra's future Music Director, Gustavo Dudamel, who will be in
town for two weeks of concerts, featuring more music by Mozart and Beethoven, a couple of modern works and
a healthy dose of Richard Strauss. Tickets may be a bit scarce, but well worth tracking down, for these unique