By Ted AYALA
Is the music of the great Romantic composers of the 19th century so different from the well loved songs that modern day Broadway and the West End have produced? In the program presented at Disney Hall on Sunday afternoon, conductor Victor Vener and the California Philharmonic affirmed their belief in the old adage that there are only two kinds of music: good and bad.
Whether they played Andrew Lloyd Webber or Tchaikovsky, the California Philharmonic made no distinction between the two. It was all great music, to which the orchestra brought its total commitment and polished tonal quality.
“This is classical music, too,” said Vener after he led the orchestra in Richard Rodgers’ “Carousel Waltz.” The waltz – at once refined and exuding an air of small-town simplicity – delicately hovered along, with the orchestra’s fine winds making the most out of the music’s evoking of fairground organ sounds.
Interspersed throughout the concert were selections from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” and Patrick Doyle’s “Quest for Camelot.”
Singers David Burnham and Kristi Hoden joined the orchestra in a string of solos and duets. Burnham was effective enough, despite his breathy voice and affected expression. But the real find was soprano Kristi Hoden, whose gleaming instrument was a joy to hear each and every time. Her rounded, opulent top notes, excellent diction, and the ease with which she managed her voice left one impatient to hear more of her. Her voice has a girlish quality and brilliance in her top register that would make for a superb Cherubino, Zerlina or Adele.
Closing both halves of the program were two hefty works from the classical repertoire.
Edvard Grieg’s youthful “Piano Concerto” ended the first half, with pianist Gayle Martin Henry. Her approach eschewed pianistic acrobatics and over-the-top virtuosity. Instead she stressed the work’s lyricism and inward looking qualities. Her handling of the “Adagio,” finely etched and caressed lovingly, made a large-scale “Lyric Piece” of the movement; a statement both intimate and public. The finale, often pounded out mercilessly by less secure pianists, sparkled under her hands. It was an interpretation that allowed Grieg to be Grieg, never pushing the music into an unnatural posture.
At the end of the second half were the final two movements of Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4.” The finale was more “Allegro” than con fuoco. Vener’s tempo, as well as his sense of instrumental balance, allowed the parts to emerge with greater clarity. Percussion and brass added color in his hands, never overwhelming the orchestra. It unfurled to the coda with grandeur, instead of a hasty race to the finish.
There is in the California Philharmonic’s concerts a very welcoming lack of snobbery that brings together popular and classical without having to pander. They do what they do – and they do it very well.
Next will be Carmen on Broadway at Festival on the Green at Santa Anita Park on Saturday, Aug. 11 and at Disney Concert Hall on Sunday, Aug. 12.
Carmen on Broadway is Cal Phil’s effusive nod to some of the greatest musicals in history including “Carmen,” “Beauty & The Beast,” “Lion King” and “Les Miz.” Hitting every note during this thrilling and entertaining concert are world-renowned featured guests including bass baritone Cedric Berry and opera stars Sandra Rubalcava and Christopher Bengochea.
Also performing is 2010 Cal Phil Young Artist Award winner Emily Dyer and the Cal Phil Chorale under the direction Maestra Marya Basaraba.