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Better Than Kafka: Mehta In L.A.

Los Angeles
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
04/01/2000 -  
Richard Wager: Overture to Rienzi
Karol Szymanowski: Violin Concerto # 1
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony # 3

Alexander Treger (violin)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta (conductor)

A trim-looking Zubin Mehta returned to Los Angeles for an odds-and-ends program that had an audience full of bright young faces roaring throughout. After leading a brassy reading of Wagner’s Rienzi Overture, and accompanying Russian virtuoso Alexander Treger in an incandescent performance of Karol Szymanowski’s first Violin Concerto, the imperious Indian maestro finished with an Eroica that plumbed the music’s heart in the slow movement before ripping it to shreds in the last. It was a microcosm of Mehta’s regime with the Philharmonic in the 1960s and 1970s, commitment and passion alternating with the ordinary.

Mehta made the most of Wagner’s barn-burning overture, driving the orchestra fast and hard. The woodwind chording was exquisite, the cellos and basses were lyrical and elegant, and the high-flying brass proved why they are considered among the country’s best. The sheer physicality of the performance had one of the cellists shaking his left hand in relief after it was over.

Backed by the orchestra’s wildly brilliant playing, led by principal oboe David Weiss’s creamy solos, former Philharmonic Concertmaster Treger came out next and played Szymanowski’s sex-drenched Concerto with the kind of precision that allowed the audience to enter into the composer’s ambiguous tonal universe. With a technique that wickedly flashed both tone and texture, and sizzled with virtuosity, Treger provided more than 20 minutes of X-rated, musical ecstasy. During intermission, an intellectual L.A. friend, her eyes gleaming with sin, and diamonds biting at her neck, came up to me and mysteriously said, "I love this Szymanowski even better than Franz Kafka!"

After intermission, the first two movements of the Eroica found Mehta at his expansive Viennese best: Beethoven’s rhetoric was folded seamlessly into the music’s flow, the strings were rich and warm, and the woodwinds phrased like angels. After the famous distant horn call, Mehta’s conducting increased in intimacy through to an overwhelming, final crescendo. The slow movement was even better, the opening set in motion by the Philharmonic’s superbly growling low strings and Weiss’s beautiful oboe solo. Even an electronic beeper going off in the audience did not disturb the music’s intensity. The strings particularly, even if they occasionally became strident high in the violins, were gripping throughout. The deconstructionist ending was eloquent without resorting to outright tragedy.

After a surprisingly fast third movement, however, with horns thrilling in the Trio, the last movement came in fast and rushed as if Mehta’s heart had suddenly hardened. The performance was only saved by one last spectacular oboe solo from Weiss in the slow variations before the rush to glory at the end.

Laurence Vittes



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