By Don Heckman
Los Angeles CA. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra can always be counted on to deliver an evening of rich musicality. And Sunday night’s performance at Royce Hall in Westwood was no exception.
The headline event in a rich program was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. But, typically, LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane also scheduled a pair of intriguing works – Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 5, with soloist Juho Pohjonen and Lines of the Southern Cross, the latter the premiere of a work newly commissioned by the LACO from Australian composer Cameron Patrick.
The evening opened with the new Patrick composition. Introducing the work, Kahane noted that the music “acknowledged the traditional owners of Australia and custodians of the land, the Australian Aboriginal people.” Patrick did all that and more, in a work that also captured the broad, far ranging landscape of Australia, from its mountain peaks to its ocean depths via some especially expressive writing for the strings. And the LACO interpretation of Southern Cross convincingly introduced it as a significant new work that deserves wide hearing – in live performance and on recordings.
The Saint-Saens Piano Concerto, sometimes called The Egyptian, was described by the composer as the representation of a sea voyage. And there are passages in the piece that do so, in characteristically French impressionist style. The work is also a virtuosic showcase for the piano soloist, and Pohjonen was effective on all counts, from the lyric passages to the most technically demanding passages.
The climax of the evening, understandably, was the Beethoven Symphony No. 5, one of the most frequently performed pieces in the entire catalog of classical music. And any well-interpreted performance of the work resonates with its long history. Written in the first decade of the 19th century, it was created at a time of considerable unrest for the Western world and for its composer. Europe was in the midst of the Napoleonic wars. And Beethoven, in his mid-thirties, was becoming aware of the fact that the deafness he had begun to experience was progressive, and would continue to worsen.
Since then, No. 5 has also been heard, and viewed, from a variety of symbolic interpretive perspectives, starting with the V for Victory aspects of its four note, opening motif.
But ultimately it is the gripping quality of the music itself that makes No. 5 a work to be heard in every possible opportunity. In the capable direction of Kahane and the equally capable playing of the LACO’s masterful musicians, the music came to life in especially persuasive fashion. Perhaps best of all, the musically symbiotic togetherness of the LACO’s players, combined with Kahane’s seeming desire to open the way for the music to find its way produced a stunning performance, overflowing with passionate intensity.
Altogether, it was another significant entry in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s long lexicon of memorable performances.