Los Angeles Music Review: BYCHKOV & CAPUÇON (Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on October 29, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


When scholars speak of the greatest concertos ever written for the violin, certainly the names of Beethoven, Brahms, and Bruch are bandied about. But for out-and-out popularity with audiences you can look to two, both of which—regardless that they are performed and recorded with alarming regularity—remain reigning favorites. One is Tchaikovsky. The other is the three-movement Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64.


One of the many artists who has recorded the Mendelssohn performed last night at Disney Hall, but this is a more precise and technically proficient Renaud Capuçon than I heard on CD earlier today. With an impassioned, almost fatherly, Semyon Bychkov leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the handsome Frenchman (older brother of cellist Gautier) took a romantic route, trading passion (even in the appassionato) for fascinating phrasing and gloriously glassy top notes. And while it’s true that the concerto is scored for a smaller orchestra, Bychkov made sure that we heard every sweet note from the violin in all three movements (which are played without a break, a revolution when this was first performed a year after its completion in 1844).

Unfortunately, the entire affair was languorous with no grit and no muscle. When it ended, I fully expected the running time to have been 40 minutes, but this performance came in at under the normal 30-minute run time. M. Capuçon may have balanced sorrowful with sunny here, but it’s a shame his work wasn’t as sparkling as his black patent-leather loafers.


Damned if the same thing didn’t happen when German violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann played Antonín Dvořák’s seldom-heard Violin Concerto at Disney Hall two years ago. As with Zimmerman, Capuçon faced the conductor the entire concert, leaving his back to patrons in orchestra east and terrace east the entire time. I know he has to watch the conductor, but there’s no relationship with the folks who are paying top dollar (aside from a few rabid fans, the tepid applause meant no encore). And if you are going to face the maestro, then why does it seem like the soloist and the orchestra are at different tempos?

There are also many characteristics that can be flavored by the violinist’s personality in the Mendelssohn (and many even rewrite the cadenza), but I couldn’t pick up volatility, wit, urgency, zaniness—nothing. I spent more time than I should have concentrating on other players instead of the in-demand violinist (great work by bassoonist Shawn Mouser and timpanist Nicholas Stoup).


In the program’s second half, Bychkov treated Richard Strauss’s symphonic poem (think colossal tone poem), An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64, with the personality one reserves for a jog in the park (far different than his imperative treatment of Bruckner’s Eighth with the LA Phil). But in this case, I didn’t mind a bit—the work still soared in many ways. Being an avid hiker with 307 National Parks under my belt, I always find it remarkable when a composer evokes nature through the scoring of instruments—and when you have a crew as talented as the LA Phil players, the effect is transportive. Every principal gets to strut their stuff, but particularly notable work came from Joseph Assi (horn), James Wilt (trumpet), Sarah Jackson (piccolo), Joseph Pereira (timpani), Martin Chalifour & Nathan Cole (violin), and Michele Zukovsky & Burt Hara (clarinet). Everything in this rarely performed 45-minute beautiful beast—from buzzing bees and warbling birds to storms—is evoked by wind machine, organ, string quartet, and the rather obvious use of cow bells. Don’t expect memorable leitmotifs here, just lean back and let the music take you on a meditative journey through nature.


photos courtesy of LA Phil

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Semyon Bychkov, conductor
Renaud Capuçon, violin
Walt Disney Concert Hall
ends on November 1, 2015
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Wilt November 3, 2015 at 12:53 pm

Thanks for the kind review of the Strauss. Tom Hooten was actually playing principal on it, and sounded amazing (we reversed the seating between the concerto and Mendelssohn, on which I played principal, and the Strauss).

I should add the same for Joe Assi, who likewise played principal horn on the concerto, while Roger Kaza absolutely pasted the 1st horn part on the Strauss.




Tony Frankel November 4, 2015 at 10:12 am

Thanks for clarifying, Jim. Principal lists can be dizzying, and I’m fortunate you caught my brass flip-flop.


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