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A Preview of Things To Come

Los Angeles
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center
03/02/2002 -  

Kaija Saariaho: Du cristal
Franz Joseph Haydn: Cello Concerto Hob. XVII:2
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 1

Andrew Shulman (cello)
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Franz Welser-Most (conductor)

After a strangely-programmed first half, Franz Welser-Most gave a magnificent demonstration in Sibelius’s First Symphony of the qualities he is going to bring to the Cleveland Orchestra when he becomes its new Music Director this Fall.

The concert began with a big-boned, romantic performance of Finnish modernist Kaija Saariaho’s deconstructionist Du cristal. First heard in L.A. in 1990 under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen, the 20-minute piece is an abstract tone-poem, based on a remote philosophical concept, which reflects, according to the composer, her concern with 'the most perfect, most symmetrical ways of organizing musical materials.' However impressive Saariaho’s build-up of tonal and harmonic elements is, with its bleak harmonic tensions and unconventional sound effects such as using the bows of the strings to rasp and scrape against their instruments, it is not dramatic entertainment in any conventional sense and, as a program-opener, it left the audience restless.

Matters were not helped by a stylistically timid and technically uncertain performance of Haydn’s well-known D Major concerto by the Philharmonic’s principal cellist Andrew Shulman, unfortunate testimony as well to the difficulty that modern orchestras are having with staples of the classical concerto repertoire. Nor did Haydn seem comfortable being sandwiched between two works of Finnish ice and fire.

After intermission, however, Welser-Möst and the orchestra made generous amends with a performance of Sibelius’s First Symphony that kept the audience riveted in rapt fascination. From Michele Zukovsky’s introspective, beautifully-phrased clarinet solo, to the final pizzicato chords, Welser-Möst kept the orchestra on its toes with an angular, improvisatory approach that had an almost tangible sense of incendiary tension and emotional depth. If it was an approach that the laid-back, richly upholstered Philharmonic is not used to from Salonen, they rose to the occasion with eloquence and savage power. One can only imagine what it will be like when Welser-Most begins his collaboration with the leaner, meaner Cleveland Orchestra.

Laurence Vittes



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