By Don Heckman
Always eager to display their fascination with a far-ranging selection of music, the skilled players of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra once again showcased their remarkable versatility Sunday night in a CAP UCLA concert at Royce Hall.
The program reached across more than two centuries, from Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in 1775 to Lutoslawski’s Chain 2 in 1985 with stops at Beethoven in 1802 and Kodaly in 1933. All of it was conducted by LACO Music director Jeffrey Kahane with his usual blend of musical elan, and performed by the Orchestra with their characteristic musical authenticity.
The evening opened with Beethoven’s Twelve Contredanses for Orchestra. Although the contredanse genre, with its folk roots, may seem an atypical style for Beethoven, he embraced it with imaginative enthusiasm. Typically, a few thematic elements found their way into later works. But the Contradanses stand on their own as engagingly compelling expressions of Beethoven’s remarkable creative range.
So too for the LACO’s high spirited, rhythmically enchanting interpretations, reaching deeply into the imaginative centers of the Contradanses.
Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 provided a prime opportunity to experience the superb artistry of violinist Benjamin Beilman. Still in his early twenties and the possessor of numerous musical awards, he approached the work with what the New York Times once described as “his handsome technique, burnished sound and quiet confidence.”
All of which seemed precisely on target for his interpretation of the Concerto, composed when Mozart was 19. Listening to Beilman’s mesmerizing performance, with its lyrical melodic passages and articulate virtuosity, it was easy to imagine a youthful, intuitive linkage between composer and soloist.
In contrast, Witold Lutoslawski’s Chain 2 is a work written by the Polish composer in 1986, while he was in his seventies. And, unlike the classical orientation of the Beethoven and Mozart works, Chain 2 is a spectacular display of late 20th century avant-garde techniques. Much of Chain 2 specifies purely spontaneous, aleatoric responses from the musicians, cued in various instrumental densities by signals from Kahane. The impressive result was a stunning performance by the LACO players, with Beilman serving as a very different soloist from his role in the Mozart Concerto.
The final piece on the program – Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta – was inspired, like the Beethoven Contranses, by traditional European music. In the early years of the 20th century Kodaly, along with his compatriot and musical associate Bela Bartok, journeyed around his native Hungary recording folk songs and dances. Many found their way into the Dances of Galanta. Scored for string orchestra and a full complement of wind instruments, the Dances burn with gypsy rhythms underscoring lush-textured ensemble passages rich with woodwinds – especially the clarinets and oboes.
And here, again, the LACO players grasped every aspect of the music, blending its Hungarian roots with Kodaly’s orchestral mastery. It was the perfect finale to a banquet of extraordinary compositions, its pleasures continually reminding us of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s continuing ability to serve up delightful bounties of memorable music.