Los Angeles Music Review: JESÚS LÓPEZ-COBOS & GARRICK OHLSSON (LA Phil at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on January 24, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


There were some noticeable threads in three seemingly disparate works presented at Disney Hall. The program consisted of Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony — one of the great listener favorites in the entire canon of Romantic symphonies; Brahms’ impellent, magnificent, and demanding First Piano Concerto; and the West Coast premiere of Spanish composer Cristóbal Halffter’s Tiento del primer tono y batalla imperial. They are all rich in folkloric strains, nationalism, pride, and romanticism.


Given that the few pieces of Halffter’s I have heard lent themselves to modern electro-acoustic sounds, I was somewhat apprehensive about Tiento del primer. Yet this ten-minute tone poem and orchestral showpiece is much more romantically classical. It begins with mournful Samuel Barber-like strings building into dissonant shimmering blares like an organ, moving into an enveloping and sweeping battle march–imperialistic and jaunty–utilizing brassy fanfares and rattling xylophone. This piece, which builds to a shattering and exciting finale with rousing timpani, is a mashup of two works from much earlier Spanish composers: Tiento del primer tono by Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566) and Batalla imperial by Juan Bautista José Cabanilles (1644-1712).

Garrick Ohlsson

I once saw Garrick Ohlsson perform Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony. His technical virtuosity and unflappable demeanor were in fine form, as he played with austere and crisply cool efficiency. But he lacked an internal passion that made the reading cold. With the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the 6′ 4″ American — probably the only classical pianist working today who can make a 9-foot Steinway Grand look small — again played the same way. But for the Brahms Piano Concerto no. 1, it worked. The result was one of the calmest and dreamiest renditions I have ever heard, especially in the Adagio; it was soothing almost to the point of nap time; except, of course, that build to a foot-stomper of a finale. But it was glossy and luxurious, and any drama was left to the woodwind section, urged on by LA Phil’s guest conductor Jesús López-Cobos (who did a sensational job with LA Opera’s La Cenerentola last year). Ohlsson’s strength truly is the brilliant merging of academic, passion and invention.

Jesús López-Cobos

López-Cobos proved why the Dvořák is one of the great listener favorites in the entire canon of Romantic symphonies. I couldn’t hear anything new in Dvořák’s Eighth that previous musicians haven’t already found in it. Still, utilizing neither bombast nor syrupy sentimentalism,  López-Cobos located the heart of the nationalism and pride in the music. As with Halffter, Dvořák is celebrating culture, but his is drenched in Bohemian nationalism, with pastoral writings that are clear forerunners to the Ninth (New World). And the bird-like falling notes from the new principal flutist Denis Bouriakov during the Allegro con brio were as soothing as an afternoon in the woods.

photos courtesy of LA Phil

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Jesús López-Cobo, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S Grand Ave.
ends on January 24, 2016
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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