The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Monday, June 28, 2010

LA Phil (NPR): Gustavo Dudamel conducts Dvorak and Tchaikovsky - both in B Minor. Alicia Weilerstein, cello. 06.05.10. Disney Hall, Los Angeles.

What logic must be behind pairing Dvorak concerto with the Tchaikovsky Sixth? For someone with, let us say, mild taste for overemphasis, here is what veers dangerously close to bathos reinforcing bathos – sinking so much underneath. I can not explain the Dudamel phenomenon, except to be remindful that man by last name of Abreu assembled la sistema in Venezuela, not Dudamel. Dudamel is felicitously poster boy as program’s first international success. Coming from very humble origins arises so much.

One certain way to deny music its power and eloquence is to deny it its form. The Dvorak Cello Concerto opened, with Alicia Weilerstein, equal partner in crime as soloist. Something of thus very modest results, albeit with very sufficient theatricality to help us pretend we had something, came about. As for any marking that has ‘poco’ in it , Dudamel usually interprets that for anything to be marked even for just isolated measure or two, must mean shyness on the part of the composer about asking for more, to add more, or even to start earlier than where he might have indicated. Whenever it might help Dudamel’s own expressive purposes, it might even be possible to do just the opposite of what the composer indicates in the score. It sure seemed too, with highly vernacular deconstructionism at play, that here was Dudamel’s (newest) attempt overall to reveal how sliced bread, or chain of broken sub-phrases can be discovered anew.

Lower winds started the Dvorak in lumbering manner - with long distraught ritardando a good four measures before marked - for eventually what turned out good horn entrance. Weilerstein, upon first entering, made triple stop chords so pushed and thick to right away resemble her playing quarter, quintuple stops instead – with immediately flaccidly apoplectic response from concertato of winds. Louder statements from full orchestra, while working so much else so hard, registered consistently anti-climactic. Repeat chain of appoggiatura to strongly mark line for soloist before first entering with second theme was all also ironically too light. Dudamel however then tried to prove expressivity about timpani upbeats in the following ritrornello – at expense to line.

Long, mostly unmarked ritardando framed new contest entry by Weilerstein - as how to make often expressive G-sharp minor entrance for the Development most slathered over yet. An obvious hard jerk forward, one among many, next had to be healthy for getting things going again. Ending with loud half-scrape up octaves run into the Recapitulation was a series of accelerandi, each successive one less subtle, more exciting than the one before, none of which written in by Dvorak. For all this, the Recapitulation upon arrival seemed quite cruelly anti-climactic. For about a minute or two, we somehow got a breather from all the spelling out of so much to us. Things eventually continued to proceed in as broad-brush, but half-ironically simultaneously fragmented way as earlier.

Dudamel made palpable good restful atmosphere to open the slow movement, but all as getting too distended. Hard docking to open the middle section did little to assist belying an overall lack of subtlety. Violin section arpeggi, admittedly light even in numbers, over continuing cello line, sounded very wispy - lame at supporting anything. Underlining of halfway lost principal bassoon to accompany misshapen line from Weilerstein turned out most curious. Concertato of horns reintroducing outer section to the Adagio almost ran out of breath, with Dudamel paying special attention to marking timpani upbeats correctly. All was beginning to individually develop a life of its own, as though we might be getting here post-Lutoslawski Venetian Games, Cello Concerto Dvorak instead of just Dvorak. Usual place for brief conspicuous speed up in note values, then additionally instructed, went by hardly noticeably at all; Dudamel and Weilerstein probably just surmised it most safe to simply get through it.

Push and shove proved again rule of thumb, rule of flail, for starting the finale - high dance step octave F-sharps in violins getting icked so that woodwinds in same pitch interplay with the violins did not get any real say at all in the mix. Weilerstein eschewed finding stable tempo for opening the rondo, resulting in her missing accents, and compensating for such lack, making good fast flailed sa-shay through following lines. Next entrance in double-stops then got heavily worked, as expected. Principal clarinet made so much massage out of the usually completely gentle, yielding second theme; Weilerstein then settled for educated guess to negotiate rapid triplet or sextuplet arpeggi coming off this and then loud halfway pitchless scrape up run into ritornello to follow.

Concertmaster solo over accompanying cello began with real spirit, but Dvorak would have scratched out his molto rit. and accents descending off high B had he encountered such clearly evident context here. Loud, highly extended docking, respectively settled for what we should find climactic for framing brass chorale and long held F-sharp (contest now as to who can hold it the longest) for Weilerstein, for Los Angeles Philharmonic next to flail away for finish line at last. At end of the broadcast, Dudamel was described as standing for his bows within ranks of the Philharmonic, as to represent himself as merely one among colleagues on stage. Could have so many interpretative decisions about the Dvorak occurred by committee? Could not have Dvorak lived to take orchestration from Stockhausen or Bernd Alois Zimmermann? Could not such insight have enhanced his writing then, you think? I am reminded of Proms commentary last summer introducing Dialoge by Zimmermann - i.e. how so many instrumentalists, including two pianists, got assorted into all randomly chosen groups to freely interact.

Blow the dust off them old warhorses! There once came occasion for Ilan Volkov to join Heinrich Schiff on the Dvorak. Without needing props from anybody, he conducted the Dvorak with as much poetry, quality of detail, supple line at age of thirty-one as I have heard anybody do it. Both soloist and conductor left at the door all usual mannerism and fuss that so non-poetically can clog the alternately dancing and rhapsodizing lines of this music. Here was loudly announced attempt to blow all the dust off the Dvorak, but ultimately a harder layer of grime and crud accumulated, caked over it instead.

Not a terribly slow, but quite extensively diffuse, prolix account of the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony followed – that ultimately sounded tiring, even for players of the Philharmonic. Giulini recorded this with them not so terribly long ago. First period of the stormy Development section broke apart into at least half a dozen sub-phrases. Following this was re-entry of first theme, played in about three different articulations; most interesting was the heavily slurred one, such as probably got copied off a recording– useless to try guessing at or knowing which one. Musing brass chorale over still, quietly rumbling basses all went matter-of-fact, replied to by Tinkerbelle flourish in the winds. Quasi-mexican serenade of sorts was made out of the great Theme 2, followed by marking of just about every sub-phrase for winds that could be found over stasis of marching chords in strings underneath Connecting line to all this then became completely lost. Syrupy muzak out of rushing line in violins toward reprise consequent of Theme 2 and jerking-back-of-personal-frame-on-podium marking of timpani upbeats beneath nobly restrained closing clarinet solo was all most expressive indeed.

Second movement five-four waltz began unsure of where to place either accents or hips on the podium for it. Winds, when given the tune, never throughout the course of this achieved meaningful shape to it. Accompaniment to flourishing string line responding to winds thereby was shaky all at once in numerous ways. Equally fey was extra piquant touch to the polonaise-infused dotted rhythm ends of phrases and eyelid drooping back-phrase in making it from trio section back into main waltz. Trio section fared better. Two note sequential, stepwise sub-phrases starting the coda got individually packaged care as individual phrases all on their own instead of components to one connecting line.

As for the scherzo-march, slower than usual, slightly more energy than affordable got spent on working what ultimately resulted in shaky ensemble for triplets in the strings to open this. Clipping of wind parts reminded one well of name of hall where this concert took place. Dudamel dug into multiple stop cadences in his strings with tremendous force. The march, at constantly slightly distended tempo, also received quite a work-out. It did not especially flatter the acoustic of the still relatively new Disney Hall – across street from the Chandler - to make hollow space for first five note repeating timpani in the coda, yet Dudamel did just that. Conclusion carried forth with brilliant flourish.

The tragic finale was not terribly slow so much as devoid of real shape. Dudamel, from perhaps several recordings he has listened to, knows where to push or rush the line through two climactic long arches therein, but missed internal placement of accents within the line, even clipping a few notes along the way, making caricature of it all. There was the practically usually blowsy muzak typical of often mediocre interpretation of the opening divisi-built tune to the finale; enhancing such more than one could ask or want, a little salsa thrown in for flavor. Hardly any connected line was achieved at all.
Brass sostenuto was quite good for their chorale intoned final say, but it, toward good mimic of understatement, suffered from the shaving off of several note values of their full worth; any coursing line through it and rests, got entirely lost. Entirety of coda following the brass chorale got worked hard; so no last drop of passion with which Dudamel must infuse it could be missed. Does not the name Carlos Paita ever come up, as of late?

With so much work Dudamel picks up, getting rushed-coached through so many scores by Abbado, Rattle, Barenboim does not replace hard work on one’s own and time for reflection needed to become an at all significant interpreter. Here is someone who has come a very long way; it is not for me to demean what enthusiasm Dudamel brings to the plate each time he steps up. Not forgetting horn, other fine wind principals, the best musician on stage for this was none other than principal bassoon Shawn Mouser, who let slip out a fully convincing shape to long descending line one third the way through the finale. Give him a fifty percent pay raise right away.

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