By Ted AYALA
The musical styles of a pair of works that formed part of the California Philharmonic’s end of season program on Sunday at Disney Hall offered a striking contrast. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s epic setting of Victor Hugo’s equally epic novel of the French Revolution, Les Misérables, is a pageant of pop-flavored music with a hint of grand opera – think Meyerbeer or Puccini by way of Queen – to help give it the breadth appropriate for the subject. The music of Leonard Bernstein, most notably in the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story that comprised the major portion of the program’s first half, was altogether different. Tense, energetic, nervous, bracing, wiry, neurotic; a work whose casual, easy way with the language of the streets artfully masks the composer’s equal mastery of the rigor of the classical world. The setting and styles of both works look distinct from one another on the surface.
Take the time to peer underneath, as Victor Vener and the California Philharmonic did, and one finds the common ground in both works. Revolutions of a kind, whether explicit or implicit, serve as each of their foundations, a revolution of the heart, as it were.
The explosive energy of that revolution of the senses was conveyed vividly by the California Philharmonic, delivering a no-holds barred take on the dance suite extracted from Bernstein’s tale of star-crossed lovers with a 1950s twist. Exuberant in the “Mambo,” conveying a barely restrained sense of nocturnal urban menace and angst in the “‘Cool’ Fugue,” poignantly radiant in “Somewhere” and the suite’s coda. It was a performance that was gritty and got dirt under its fingernails – just as its composer would have wanted.
Bookending the first half – with a droll take on “A Little Bit in Love” from Wonderful Town sung by Melissa Lyons Caldretti in between – was a saucy, piquant take on Bernstein’s breezy “Overture to Candide” as well as that show’s closing chorus, “Make Our Garden Grow.” Taking the stage along with the orchestra was the California Philharmonic Chorale as well as baritone Randal Keith and soprano Caldretti.
The massiveness of utterance, both in style and scope, of Les Misérables was well captured in the set of extracts that comprised the entirety of the concert’s second half. Culling about an hour’s worth of numbers from the three-hour original, it was a generous sampling that allowed the orchestra and its guest singers to demonstrate their range.
“Epic” is a word that one can’t avoid turning to when describing this show, but I’ll have to turn to it just once more in order to describe baritone Randal Keith’s, yes, epic rendition of “Bring Him Home” that delineated in consummate fashion up his vocal polish.
Coming all together once more in the closing “Do You Hear The People Sing?” the performance was a brilliant summation of a season that has been nothing less than a brilliant success for the orchestra. Maestro Victor Vener and his orchestra have much to be proud of.