By Don Heckman
It was warm at the Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night – warm verging toward hot, one of those Bowl evenings when the temperature, and conversations about the temperature, can distract listeners from the music on stage.
But not on this night, a night in which Ludwig van Beethoven, Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic were so creatively in sync that the magnificent Symphony No. 5 and the lesser known Triple Concerto captivated the entranced audience, wiping away concerns about the simmering temperature.
The Triple Concerto, with violin, cello and piano as its solo instruments, is a work that reflects Beethoven’s apparent – and eminently successful — desire to write a piece that showcases each of the individual instruments, as well as their collective qualities as a piano trio.
Performed by violinist Renaud Capucon, cellist Gautier and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the rarely heard work came vividly to life. And by the time the ensemble dug into the buoyant, polonaise qualities of the final movement, the stage had been set for the climactic work of the night.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, arguably one of the world’s most frequently heard classical works, never loses its appeal – either for eager listeners, or for conductors equally desirous of displaying their skills upon such a vital composition.
In this memorable performance, that appeal was ever present for an audience mesmerized by the gripping qualities of the Symphony’s unfolding themes. Their responses, climaxed by the waves of applause and shouts of “Bravo!” sweeping across the Bowl after the final notes were sounded, recalled the commentary by Beethoven’s contemporary, E.T.A. Hoffman after the first performance of No. 5 in 1808.
“This wonderful composition, in a climax that climbs on and on,” wrote Hoffman, “leads the listener imperiously forward into the spirit world of the infinite!”
It’s a thought that was also present in Dudamel’s shaping of the work from the dramatic utterance of the Fifth’s fanfare-like opening four note motif to the rich melodiousness of the final movement. If Dudamel was tempted in anyway to invest his direction of the work with the dramatic qualities that are so essential to his style, he pushed the thought aside. Instead, he allowed Beethoven and the Fifth itself to provide every element of emotional drama the work needed.
And the results were extraordinary. Whether a listener was a newbie to a live performance of the Fifth, or familiar with numerous past versions, Dudamel and the Phil provided a standard that will surely be recalled as one of the vital performances of a definitive classical work.
To say it was a night to remember is surely correct, but even a sweeping generalization of that sort doesn’t give full justice to this remarkable performance. So all praise to Beethoven, Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
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Dudamel photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.