By Ted AYALA
Last weekend’s California Philharmonic concerts contained the usual frothy mix of film scores, musicals, and classical warhorses. But the inclusion of John Corigliano’s 1997 “Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra” proved to be a surprising deviation from the orchestra’s well-trodden path of accessible music and into the realm of musical idioms that mass audiences typically find forbidding.
Not that Sunday’s Disney Hall audience seemed to mind, as they gave a hearty ovation to both the orchestra and violin soloist Elizabeth Pitcairn.
The Chaconne, which serves as the kernal of inspiration for the composer’s score to the film “The Red Violin,” bears much of the polystylism that marks Corigliano’s other work. Its tone tends towards the dark, even the astringent, but it also is – as Pitcairn’s impassioned performance proved – an exciting, bracing work.
It is, in comparison to the orchestra’s typical repertoire, a challenging and complex work. Both Pitcairn and the orchestra, however, rose to the considerable demands of the score and delivered a whopping performance, with each musician clearly giving his or her all. Pitcairn’s intonation was dead-on and her agility in navigating the work’s mood shifts were impressive. Equally impressive was her backing from Victor Vener and the orchestra, matching Pitcairn in expressive zeal while never overwhelming her.
As it turns out, the piece is no stranger to the orchestra having been performed once before in 2000 with the same soloist.
It was, in any event, perhaps the orchestra’s finest moment this season.
The remainder of the program stayed the course for the orchestra’s usual fare. A stately, if somewhat stodgy, finale from Saint-Saëns’ “Symphony No. 3” opened the concert with a fine contribution by Phillip Smith on the organ.
Likewise, the medleys of James Horner and “Star Trek” scores, which the orchestra could probably play with its eyes closed, were fluent and effective.
A small surprise was had when excerpts of “Frozen” were sung, which were not included on the printed program. Sung with glitzy flair and bravado, it was a performance that also made an interesting contrast to the Corigliano work that immediately followed.
Closing with excerpts from Act III of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,” Vener and the orchestra did an excellent job of conveying the pomp and majesty of the score; it’s a repertoire that certainly feels like home for them. It certainly felt like a homecoming as the musicians closed in on the radiant and solemn coda – and left one hoping that they return to Wagner’s score sooner rather than later.