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LA Chamber Orchestra Pays The Soraya a Visit

February 10, 2020

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Nine years after its opening, the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts — or The Soraya — has yet to fulfill its potential as a major alternative to the downtown and Westside culture palaces. Blame its isolation in the middle of the San Fernando Valley — miles away from the nearest freeways — not the hall itself, which is a very good space for symphonic music.

So the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra proved again on their trip to The Soraya Friday night — and although this would be their only visit up through the end of the group’s just-announced 2020–2021 season, I would hope that it isn’t the last. The type of robust playing that Jaime Martín seems to have been developing during his first season as music director blooms in this hall, making the ensemble sound much larger than its numbers would indicate.

By virtue of coming before the LACO’s usual subscription concerts in the Alex Theatre in Glendale and UCLA’s Royce Hall, The Soraya got first crack at the U.S. premiere of Swedish composer Albert Schnelzer’s Burn My Letters: Remembering Clara, an LACO cocommission. “Clara” is Clara Schumann, represented by a lead flute, and her admirer Herr Brahms is by her side in the form of a bassoon. The piece begins quietly and sustained, like a seance conjuring the spirits of both before building into bustling sections that are supposed to represent the on-the-go whirl of Clara’s touring concert life. I don’t know whether Schnelzer intended it, but what I hear most vividly is the driving engines of Sibelius in those passages, not in an imitative way but in feel and energy.

The estimable violinist Christian Tetzlaff was next, with the often-played — perhaps too-often-played — Beethoven Violin Concerto as part of The Soraya’s season-long observance of the composer’s 250th birthday year. But Tetzlaff offered us something refreshingly different. The most immediately unusual wrinkle in the performance was that Tetzlaff played his transcriptions of the cadenzas that Beethoven wrote for his piano concerto arrangement (sometimes called the “Concerto No. 6”) of the Violin Concerto (he did not write cadenzas for the violin version).

The most striking cadenza is the one in the first movement where a rogue timpanist goes mano-a-mano with the violin, underlining the thematic role that the timpani plays in the movement. This cadenza sounds more radical than the usual interpolated ones, even dangerous, fundamentally changing the complexion of the whole piece — and it’s all Beethoven, not some hot-headed contemporary composer having his way. (Tetzlaff also does this on his recent Ondine recording of the concerto with Robin Ticciati and the DSO Berlin, released last September.) Elsewhere, Tetzlaff probed through every bar of the piece, constructing musical sentences that talked to each other, coupled with Martín’s big-band, big-sound collaboration.

If you’re in the mood for Dvořák symphonies in February, come to Los Angeles. After reseating the orchestra with cellos and basses now on the right, Martín got the ball rolling with a buoyant, at times fevered performance of the seldom-programmed Symphony No. 6, stirring up a particularly rowdy yet unified froth in the splendid “Furiant” Scherzo. Peter Oundjian and the Colburn Orchestra will be doing the Sixth, too, at The Broad Stage Feb. 29, right opposite the conclusion of Gustavo Dudamel’s survey of the Symphonies Nos. 7, 8, and 9 with the LA Phil Feb. 20–29. I think Gustavo should have made it Nos. 6, 7, 8, and 9 instead of duplicating Symphony No. 9 (the overdone “From the New World”) on two programs. But I guess the box office must be served.

Richard S. Ginell writes regularly about music for the Los Angeles Times, Musical America.com, Classical Voice North America, and American Record Guide.  He has also contributed to Gramophone and The Strad, among many other publications. In another lifetime, he was chief music critic of the Los Angeles Daily News.

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