Wallfisch’s LACO debut hot and cold


Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) Music Director Jeffrey Kahane stepped aside for the ensemble’s November 10 concert at the Alex Theatre. In his place was the LACO debut of 33-year-old guest conductor Benjamin Wallfisch, the scion of one of Britain’s most distinguished musical families. His work has garnered praise not only for his work as conductor, but also for a growing catalog of film scores that include Moon, The Soloist, and V for Vendetta. Wallfisch gave his audience a good sampling of both sides of his talents, with his Violin Concerto—a LACO commission—serving as the program’s heart.

The concerto demonstrated Wallfisch’s thorough knowledge of the possibilities of the violin, which soloist Tereza Stanislav, LACO’s assistant concertmaster, underlined with her own impassioned conviction and virtuosity. Never far away from the concerto was the world of the silver screen, with the work betraying a meandering diffuseness often associated (sometimes unfairly) with the genre. Close at hand too was a kind of gloom redolent of Shostakovich, albeit without Russian’s the sense of irony or nerve. Shostakovichian too was the cadenza that tied together the slow movement with the skittering finale. Though the concerto often had an acerbic bite, it never was unpleasant. But its amorphous thematic material and the loose grip with which they were developed led the mind to wander at intervals.

At the start of the concert was the Introduction and Allegro for Strings by Wallfisch’s countryman, Edward Elgar. It was a smooth performance, played with LACO’s usual burnished tone, though the drama that seethes under the music’s patrician façade was glossed over. Still, it was an attractive performance.

Wallfisch’s take on Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, which closed the concert, was a finely manicured performance that looked back to Haydn and Mozart rather than to the Romantics. The small-scale view, with the head-long rush of the first movement’s “Allegro con brio” or the closing “Allegro molto” sounding more graceful than exhilarating, seemed to show Beethoven hesitant to let go of his powdered wig and let his hair down.

The conductor’s podium behavior warrants attention. His grand manner, with plenty of swooping and swooning, sometimes were more interesting than the performance he wrested from the LACO. For all the drama of his gestures, the results he obtained were cool and controlled. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing. But one sometimes wished the music-making was as lively as the Wallfisch’s dervish-like movements.