Charles Dutoit’s annual visits to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic have become a highlight of every season, and his residency this year was more of the glorious same. Adding to the joy was the chance to see and hear him conduct something other than the FrancoRussian rut he has been in during the past seven or eight years; I’m not sure whether pigeonholing him in that repertoire has been his idea, the orchestra’s, or some combination thereof.
In fact, the last time he conducted anything vaguely Teutonic was in 2006 in a program that included Mozart’s Figaro Overture and Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. Since then, there have been only two composers he has conducted locally that weren’t from either French or Russian composers: a Ginastera curtain-raiser and the ubiquitous Grieg Piano Concerto.
His concerts this year featured music from Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Strauss. It showed that no matter what he conducts, he continues to offer balanced and compelling interpretations of great beauty.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Strauss’s Don Quixote. Mr. Dutoit elicited a sonorous yet bright sound from the orchestra, rich in expression and texture, while maintaing clarity throughout. He also had the good fortune of having two wonderful soloists in the key roles.
The dashing Gautier Capuçon played the cello solo with a sweet purity of tone. He used his score throughout, which seemed to hem him in a little at first; however, by Variation V, he loosened up and imbued the mentally challenged Don Quixote with melancholy grace.
As good as he was, Carrie Dennis was easily his equal. The LA Phil’s Principal Viola has been a bonafide star with the orchestra ever since she joined it from her stint as Solo Viola of the Berlin Philharmonic, and if you didn’t know it before, you knew it after this performance. She played the Sancho Panza solos with a lively mischievousness and pinpoint accuracy.
Many other of the LA Phil’s musicians made excellent contributions, most notably Martin Chalifour (Principal Concertmaster), Ariana Ghez (Principal Oboe), Jim Miller (tenor tuba), and Joshua Ranz (guest bass clarinet).
The first half of the program was perhaps less splashy but no less rewarding. The concert opened with The Hebrides overture by Mendelssohn, with Mr. Dutoit bringing to life the Scottish panorama as brooding one moment, soaring the next, and thoroughly transparent throughout. His take on the Mozart 29th Symphony was spirited and finely detailed, with the conductor using a light touch while still producing a warm sound; the third movement “Menuetto” was as brisk as I’ve ever heard it. The orchestra sounded lovely throughout, though in the Mozart, the blend in the first violins was not as impeccable as what we’ve grown accustomed to over the past few seasons.
Random other thoughts:
- While playing the tenor tuba in the Strauss, Jim Miller was not sitting with the the rest of the brass but instead between the clarinets and violins on stage right.
- Wardrobe note: during the first half of the concert, Ms. Dennis wore her typical black concert dress. For Don Quixote, she continued to play from her regular Principal Viola chair, but she had changed clothes into a white blouse, black vest, and black pants — not that she needed any help in being noticed, but it didn’t hurt either.
Los Angeles Philharmonic: February 15, 2012; Walt Disney Concert Hall
Charles Dutoit, conductor
Gautier Capuçon, cello
Carrie Dennis, viola
Mendelssohn: Overture, The Hebrides, Op. 26
Mozart: Symphony No. 29, K. 201
Strauss: Don Quixote, Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, Op. 35
- Charles Dutoit: Chris Lee (via polyphonic.org)
- Gautier Capuçon: J. Mignot
- Carrie Dennis: courtesy of Dilijian Chamber Music Series