MUSIC / THE PROMS: Hollywood tribute: Edward Seckerson on the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The orchestra from the City of Angels arrived with a decisive opening gesture. And a fitting tribute. In February 1993, they brought Lutoslawski's Fourth and last Symphony into the world; in Tuesday's Prom they showed us how they've mastered it. Under their young Finnish Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, the LA Philharmonic have been this way before, of course.

Theirs was the premiere recording of Lutoslawski's Third Symphony and many of its procedures - its bipartite scheme, its innate sense of seemingly unrelated ideas finding form and common purpose - are reincarnated in the Fourth. A heartbeat of string basses gives it life. A series of intriguing sound-bites begin to give it shape. A long, winding clarinet solo sets the lyric tone (is that Bartok remembered in the Hungarian catch of the melody?); busier elements - brilliant tucketings for brass and percussion, explosions of controlled indeterminacy - lend momentum. Resolution comes in expensive string-led elaborations, closer to Hollywood than you might imagine.

Lutoslawski's promise to write more melodically (he was as good as his word in the belief that we should be moving back from rhythm and texture-led composition) enjoys new beginnings (and sadly, abrupt endings) here. But the real fascination still lies in his fastidious craftsmanship, his ability to compel attention with every twist and turn of his elegant musical mobiles. In the closing minutes, all hearts and minds are concentrated on a meeting between three solo violins over tremulous vibraphone and marimba. Somewhere in there was a secret being shared.

So, a brilliant opening gambit from Salonen and his orchestra. Technical security was not about to be an issue here. Aside from its corporate strengths, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is plainly an orchestra of accomplished and individual soloists. Why then the anonymity of their Mozart and Sibelius?

Emanuel Ax was the only real personality in Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto No 20. His sound is beguiling, his intense musica1ity is always a whisper ahead of his fingers: he plays chamber music even with himself. Perhaps the Los Angeles winds were simply too remote from my seat in the hall, but Ax appeared to give far more than he received from Mozart's intimate exchanges. Salonen merely presided. A little more friendly persuasion from him might have made a difference.

Interestingly enough, it was Salonen's visible engagement in the closing pages of Sibelius's Second Symphony that took an otherwise uneventful performance on to another level. The covers came off the brass, the string basses couldn't give him enough in their giant strides to the victory peroration. True, this should be the biggest fortissimo of the piece, the moment we've all been waiting for, but there was a tension here that began pages before in the still small voices of the flutes, a tension that was conspicuous by its absence from the early stages of the Symphony.

Salonen was born and bred in Sibelius country; he should know the landscape. Yet here was a well-cultivated brain unscarred by the elements. Even the craggy countenance of the tuba was kept well under wraps. Hollywood living must be getting to him.

Comments