Los Angeles Music Review: DUDAMEL AND BELL (Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on October 14, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


Drop your plans this weekend and get to Disney Hall to witness conductor Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in an astoundingly satisfying program. Fortunately, last night’s performance (which I’m happy to say was full to the brim with patrons), began a weekend of four performances through Oct.16.

The draw here must have been Joshua Bell and Brahms’ popular Violin Concerto, as some patrons (mistakenly) left at intermission. They were to miss in the second half exquisite renderings of two of Richard Strauss’s ten tone poems: Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.

As a composition, Till is one of Strauss’s most effectively composed tone poems. Not only is it efficiently composed, consisting essentially of two related inverted themes that make up almost the entire musical material, but its a master class in orchestration, showing off two often-neglected instruments, the E-flat and bass clarinets. Dudamel eliminates the usual histrionic interpretive schmaltz and lets the music communicate with all its parts in clear relation to each other. Everything that is marvelous about this music Dudamel simply gives you–nothing insincere or melodramatic. Strauss’s vivid characterization of the bold seducer Don Juan is lyrical, ardent, intense, stormy, exuberant–and the performers followed suit.


At 48, Bell still retains a youthful presence but his performance here had a patina of maturity. He works very hard, stomping, swaying, and sweating, delivering a strong attack with his trademark superb technique, limber bow, rich tone, and immaculate articulation–the latter even more impressive given how many violinists soloing at Disney Hall get swallowed up by the orchestra. While “emotional” isn’t a word that springs to mind, his interpretation of the Concerto is powerfully dramatic yet consummately lyrical; lines sang and phrases breathed.


Another factor made this performance unique, and it’s one not to be missed: It is traditional for violinists to play the cadenza by Joseph Joachim, the work’s dedicatee and first performer, or even the shorter one by Busoni. With fantastic zeal and technical prowess, Bell offered his own alternative cadenza, which makes it tough for me to say if any of it was improvised. What I can say is it was deliciously lengthy and simply sublime. (This cadenza ensured just why Bell is much more tremendous at classical music than his crossover attempts.)

Fortunately, the work that opened the program was only seven minutes. Truly typical of so much modern work, Matthias Pintscher’s towards Osiris (with a typical-of-contemporary-music-title starting with a lower case letter) includes chaotic, implacable, and lush moments, yet they interrupt any harmonic motion—so there is just no following this work as seems to jump from spidery strings to trilling woodwinds to outrageous trumpet solos to terrifically orchestrated percussion (rim shots; brushed snares; popping bongos and woodblocks, etc.) for no reason. This 2005 piece may be fun, challenging work for players and fascinating to fellow musicians, but I am simply not sold. “I’m sure it’s really difficult for the orchestra to get right, ” I said to my companion. “Yes,” he replied. “But how would anyone know if they did?” Sure, it was interesting, as if Bernard Herrmann wrote modernism, and played extraordinarily well, but the 2005 work is just another noisy experiment in orchestration.


Dudamel, without score as usual, was precise but passionate. Even better, he was so assured and accomplished that the LA Phil adapted his soulfulness. He created an accompaniment for Bell that was completely accommodating but still richly symphonic. Together with the Phil players, they have all created a program both emotionally and musically fulfilling, a performance that ensured this as one of the most satisfying concerts in memory. The sound at Disney Hall was superlative–close, warm, deep, and real.

photos from previous concerts by Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Joshua Bell, violin
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave.
ends on October 16, 2016
for future events, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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