Saturday, April 08, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Rachmaninoff power source

Here's one from L.A.:
Rachmaninoff power source
André Watts dazzles, but neither he nor conductor Paavo Järvi proves revelatory.
By Chris Pasles
Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2006

Pianist André Watts, who stepped in on short notice for an ailing Hélène Grimaud, received a huge ovation after finishing Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Paavo Järvi on Thursday at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Los Angeles audiences give routine, if not obligatory, standing ovations, but this time the response was instantaneous, electrifying and accompanied by hoots, whistles and bravos that were anything but business as usual.

For one listener, it all seemed a bit over the top. Watts was a powerhouse but direct, rather objective and even-tempered soloist. He favored clarity over mystery or personal involvement, and while his technique seemed effortless, especially in his dazzling arabesques toward the end of the work, he didn't give a particularly revelatory performance.

Järvi too kept a cool head, avoiding extremes and lush indulgences and guiding the big tunes with a lean intelligence. Fortunately, principal clarinet Lorin Levee, principal flute Anne Diener Zentner and principal horn William Lane provided more personal touches.

Perhaps all the objectivity was part of a new, rehabilitating approach to Rachmaninoff, arguably the 20th century's last-standing Romantic. Yet in the Vocalise, the opening piece of a program entirely devoted to him, Järvi allowed more moodiness and flexible phrasing.

Rachmaninoff has a rap as a slush-pump composer, but his Symphony No. 2, which closed the concert, is better crafted than might at first be apparent. It is also less a stream of endless emotion — although it has plenty of feeling — than an immersion in subconscious, associative processes.

Järvi directed light into these murky realms, earning respect for the work's details and structural integrity at the expense of some of its oceanic heft and power.

There was special clarity in the Scherzo, a homage to Rimsky-Korsakov and others among Rachmaninoff's Russian forebears, and impressive attention to all the movements' on-the-dot endings. But again it was principals such as clarinetist Levee, oboist Anne Marie Gabriele and concertmaster Alexander Treger who triggered the ardent emotions leading to the third movement's climax and afterglow.

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