LACO Opens Season with Ravel, Norman, Matheson and Beethoven


It was just over a year ago when the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) and its music director, Jeffrey Kahane, left an indelible and deeply touching impression on their audience at the start of their 15th season together. Encored at the end of the program was the Adagio assai from Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G,” with the liquid tones of Kahane’s piano and the sweetly plaintive LACO winds joining together in a honeyed web of sound. That encore not only represented the stunning work that LACO and its music director had produced, but also left one with the lingering hope of someday being able to hear the concerto whole from these forces. That day finally came on Saturday – and it was well worth the wait.

Kahane and LACO wasted no time in getting to the Ravel, this time at the head of the program inaugurating the 2012-13 season.

Again, Kahane and the orchestra conjured another warmly glowing reading of the concerto’s central movement, alive to the music’s Mozartian bittersweetness. But they were also at home in the glittering artifice and wry humor of the work’s outer movements. It managed that careful tightrope walk that Ravel’s music demands of his performers: unbuttoned down and yet deeply civilized. One could imagine the composer smiling in approval.

No imagination was needed to visualize approval by the composers – they were right there on stage.

A pair of works by composers Andrew Norman and James Matheson closed the program’s first half. Norman’s “The Great Swiftness,” inspired by a sculpture on the plaza of Grand Rapids City Hall, snaked and twisted along in hocketing figurations and smearing glissandos that brought to mind the work of Gloria Coates and Thomas Adès.

True South, this time inspired by Werner Herzog’s “Encounters at the End of the World” by Matheson, was less successful. Beginning with a syncopated figure on strings, the music was animated occasionally by interesting moments, but hobbled along for the most part on tired, second-hand ideas. It was also appropriate, in a strange way, that the work preceded Beethoven on the program – another composer who was sometimes prone to let his music straggle along on a string of unfulfilled ending gestures.

Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto,” however, is one of that composer’s most beautifully proportioned works. Equal parts classical throwback and Romantic musical revolution – and all of it alight with pastoral cheerfulness.

The performance by violinist Augustin Hadelich underlined the music’s debt to Haydn and Mozart. Hadelich’s dewy, bel canto playing had about it a rich expressiveness of tears behind a smile. The undercurrent of masculine tenderness was allowed to break forth, aided by the eloquent accompaniment of LACO and Kahane.