November 28, 2012 6 Comments
Despite my tardiness, I’ve still been wanting to write about last month’s Los Angeles Philharmonic performance of the Mahler 5th Symphony. Sure, at least three loyal readers have been prodding me in public and private to do so. On top of that, the concert featured Daniel Harding, a conductor who hasn’t made a visit to Southern California in a while, and Renaud Capuçon, a dashing soloist doing a beautiful job with the Korngold Violin Concerto. The orchestra sounded quite good, and Mr. Harding’s interpretations were solid . . . but to quote a famous phrase, “Wait, there’s more!!”
The big reason it’s stayed on my mind — and the minds of many others I’ve talked to over the past few weeks — is that it served as a definitive concert early in this young season for the orchestra’s evolving brass section and, most especially, its three new principals: Andrew Bain (horn), who joined the orchestra last year; Thomas Hooten (trumpet), who played a number of concerts last season as guest principal and officially took over the job this September; and Nitzan Haroz (trombone), who began his tenure in August at the Hollywood Bowl.
Yeah, there have been other concerts earlier in the year that used a lot of brass (e.g. The Rite of Spring, Sibelius 2nd, to name just two), but a Mahler symphony is a different animal, and the Mahler 5th in particular has some gnarly solos for trumpet and horn that are hallmarks for those instruments’ repertoire.
On the night I attended, the LA Phil brass kicked some Mahler 5 butt, playing with fierce power, solid blend, and a broad range of colors and timbres. The principals in particular were outstanding.
The sound that Mr. Hooten created in the iconic first movement trumpet part was glorious, spinning and soaring with ominous majesty. Mr. Bain played what I can easily describe as the best rendering of the third movement horn obbligato I’ve had the pleasure to experience in person; it was truly breathtaking, loaded with verve and nuance, causing many around me to whisper, “Wow!” when the movement was done, and earning him the biggest ovation of the evening. Mr. Haroz may not have had a big solo moment in this particular symphony, but there was still ample opportunity to appreciate his bold yet warm tone. (A few weeks later, he got a solo turn in Ravel’s Bolero, which he absolutely knocked out of the park).
Individually, Messrs. Hooten, Haroz, and Bain are each wonderful additions to the orchestra. Taken together, they are truly spectacular, collectively bringing an extra level of sizzle to the brass sound that I haven’t heard since the formidable Thomas Stevens, Ralph Sauer, and John Cerminaro sat in their respective chairs.