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The long and short of last Thursday’s LA Phil concert with Ludovic Morlot and Emanuel Ax

Emanuel Ax (photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco)Just to prove to myself that I could summarize into three bullet points my thoughts on last Thursday’s Los Angeles Philharmonic concert:

  • Emanuel Ax played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25:  Spectacular.  Flawless.  Brilliant.  Dare I say, “Perfect.”
  • Conductor Ludovic Morlot:  Solid in Dutilleux’s The Shadows of Time and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
  • The orchestra:   Very good the whole night.

There, I did it.

Of course, there’s no fun in keeping things limited to three bullet points. . . .

“Perfect” is a dangerous word when it comes to the wonderfully subjective world of music, but if there was ever a time to throw it around, it was after Thursday night’s performance by Emanuel Ax.  There are multiple valid approaches to Mozart.  But when I imagine how Mozart should ideally be played, how I’d play it if I were talented enough, I hear it the way Mr. Ax actually plays it:  extroverted and virtuosic without ever being splashy; clean but not sterile; controlled without ever being delicate.  The range of colors he was able to caress and cajole out of the LA Phil’s Hamburg Steinway in such a dynamically compact work was remarkable. 

There are also probably even more valid approaches to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony than there are to the Mozart concerto played the same night, what with its multiple musical climaxes, brooding sensibilities, and triumphant finale.  There is some debate in our household about which of the many recorded versions in our collection is/are preferred.  Depending on my mood, I tend towards one of two somewhat opposite ends of the spectrum:  Carlos Kleiber’s incendiary version with the Vienna Philharmonic or Carlo Maria Giulini’s broad and stately rendition with the LA Phil; Mrs. CKDH goes for Esa-Pekka Salonen’s more pristine and incisive 2006 rendition with the local band.

Ludovic Morlot (photo by Sussie Ahlburg)Thursday night’s performance was different from any of those.   It wasn’t exactly the way I imagined it, and if you must have your Beethoven’s 5th whipped up to a frenzy, than you’d likely have been disappointed; however, despite it not being what I expected, it worked for me.  Mr. Morlot took a measured  approach across all four movements, but with an underlying intensity.  It was spirited without ever becoming fiery.    

I hadn’t heard Dutilleux’s The Shadows of Time before and therefore had no preconceived notions of how it should sound or whether or not I’d like it.  My reaction to other works by the French composer have been mixed, though I’d never felt outright negatively about any his compositions.  As it happens, I enjoyed this particular work quite a bit.  It swirls and shimmers, and given its frequently dreamy qualities, I would have never guessed that it was a Holocaust-inspired “somber meditation on loss” unless I had read the program.  Go figure.

Mr. Morlot elicited a well-balanced, transparent sound out of the orchestra all night, with a lighter touch overall — perhaps a more French sound, if you subscribe to such notions — than they have played with for most of the season.

Random other thoughts:

  • The Thursday night audience was, um, more “interesting” than one might expect even at Walt Disney Concert Hall (if you need more detail, read my tweets).  They also were exceptionally well-behaved:  there was very little coughing and absolutely no clapping between movements.  I would have lost money if I would have made a bet about whether or not that would have happened.
  • On-stage fashion rundown:  Mr. Morlot chose to wear white tie and tails — an increasingly rare choice by conductors in these days of Nehru jackets and open collars.  In contrast, Mr. Ax wore a regular suit and tie.
  • During the Beethoven 5th, Mr. Morlot decided against performing the repeat at the beginning of the fourth movement.

Los Angeles Philharmonic:  January 24, 2013; Walt Disney Concert Hall
Ludovic Morlot, conductor
Emanuel Ax, piano

Dutilleux:  The Shadows of Time
Mozart:  Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K. 503 (cadenza by Alfred Brendel)
Beethoven:  Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67


Photo credits:

  • Emanuel Ax:  photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco
  • Ludovic Morlot:  photo by Sussie Ahlburg

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