LAPO

To the list of once-renowned composers currently and undeservedly in limbo, the
name of Bohuslav Martinu surely belongs. During his time in America as a
refugee from Hitler’s holocaust, Martinu was much performed; it seemed as if
orchestras waited in line to commission new scores from him. Now his devotees,
though ardent, are more widely scattered.
Lawrence Foster, who conducted Martinu’s “Frescoes of Piero Della Francesca”
at the start of Thursday’s Los Angeles Philharmonic concert at the Music
Center, is clearly one of these. He is, in fact, one of our most valuable
pleaders of lost or forgotten causes, as his recent recording of Enesco’s
“Oedipe” also shows.
The music dates from 1953, six years before Martinu’s death. Although the
inspiration is the artwork by the great Italian painter, the music is pure
Martinu: the lushness of his Czech ancestry peppered by a harmonic language
reminiscent of Stravinsky. The orchestral coloration is applied with a sure
hand worthy of the great Piero himself; still, the music itself vanishes rather
quickly from the memory. More bluntly put, there is sweetness here, but no
shape.
If anything, the meanderings of Martinu were shamed most of all by the
evening’s final work, the wonderful G-major Symphony (No. 8 in the
authoritative listing) by his Czech forbear Antonin Dvorak, music set down with
the same glistening orchestral palette, but infinitely more tender and
memorable. If these adjectives did not entirely apply to Foster’s performance,
in which the first and last movements seemed needlessly brutal, the shape of
the music itself was still discernible.
Among the echoes enshrined in the walls of the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler
Pavilion is the ghost of a supremely wise performance under Carlo Maria Giulini
from 1982. It immediately dooms any subsequent attempt.
The splendid young Yefim Bronfman was the evening’s soloist, in the C-minor
Piano Concerto of Mozart (K. 491), a miracle among miracles. Something seemed
to be lacking here, too, however. Bronfman, ordinarily an intelligent hand at
preserving the proportions in these mature Mozart concertos, here seemed out of
touch with Foster and, thus, with the orchestra. The piano was too far front,
sonically speaking; the marvelous interplay between soloist and orchestra
seemed, this time, to be carried out across too vast a distance. Some beautiful
playing, from both piano and the orchestral woodwinds, seemed wasted this time
around.