An old friend has been in town these last few days, and has made himself
welcome. Bernard Rands, former professor of composition at U.C.-San Diego,
Pulitzer winner (for his “Canti di Sole”), currently Boston based, brought a
glowing new orchestral work to this weekend’s Los Angeles Philharmonic
concert. The Thursday night audience, which isn’t easily charmed by new music,
seemed genuinely charmed on this occasion.
Rands’ work, which lasts about 20 minutes, takes its title from a Samuel
Beckett poem, “…body and shadow…” punctuation and non-capitalization
as given [F/L]. The first of its two movements is framed by a fearsome outburst
from the solo timpani at beginning and end. In between comes a delicious
orchestral workout, mostly on the furious side but coming to rest now and then
in the sunlight of simple, clear harmonies. There is no direct derivation, says
Rands, from the Beckett text; the two works, even so, share an air of poetic
The second movement is even better, a haunting, sinuous melody, ever so lightly
tinged by suggestions of Oriental harmonies, emerges slowly. Clouded over by
interfering percussion instruments at the start, it eventually shakes itself
free and seems to glisten in pure light. The music ends softly, but David Alan
Miller’s conducting of the piece carried enough conviction that the audience
knew to observe a few seconds of respectful silence at the end. This is sure,
expressive music by a master of the craft. It was good to greet Rands and his
art once again.
Nothing else on the program quite reached that height, however. Rachmaninoff’s
“Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” is so loaded with bright musical tricks
that you’d think it impossible to play it badly. It fell to the evening’s
soloist, Alexander Toradze, to achieve that dubious honor. Toradze’s big
fingers dashed around on the keyboard with a certain flashiness, but the
playing was merely cute and brittle; there’s more to the music than that.
At the end Miller and the orchestra roamed through Mendelssohn’s “Scotch”
symphony, gracefully but without notable event. For all its beauty, its
glorious wind scoring in particular, this is music with problems. It totters on
the brink of pomposity and, in the slow movement and the final peroration,
falls in. There was nothing wrong with Miller’s performance, both spirited and
respectful, but ot made for a very long 45 minutes even so.

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