TREASURES: When did you last hear the B-minor Rondo Brillante of Schubert? Thursday’s Tetzlaff/Andsnes recital was marvelously played (as expected) and no less brilliantly planned. This Rondo ended it, a big, expansive work from 1826; Schubert had the “Great” C-,major Symphony behind him, and had learned by then how to flex his muscles in large instrumental forms. This work, written for a fiery Hungarian violinist, runs on and on, leapfrogging into unexpected key-areas and coming up with bright, nervy melodic gambits. Nine out of ten violinists will downplay Schubert’s music for violin and piano on the strength of a handful of early pieces, while this marvelous late work goes ignored; I don’t remember ever hearing it before in concert; I know a pokey recording from years ago by the Menuhins. This performance was a revelation – but not to the ears of the emissary of the L.A. Times, however, who wrote of this strong, unique work as “salon music.” Have people simply stopped listening?
Also a revelation, for that matter, was the Mozart Sonata that preceded it, a work in F major (K. 377), a key-signature that usually promises gentility and regularity of form. Not this time, however; after quite a predictable sonata-formal first movement Mozart leads the expectations delightfully astray. His slow movement is quite a somber set of variations in the key – D minor – that always stands in for high drama; the finale is a not-very-danceable minuet with some exquisite turns of harmony.
More Janacek; there can never be too much.The Violin Sonata, which began the
concert ,.is an early work, colored by the composer’s nationalist awareness, not yet by the personal emotions that make the later works so fascinating. Next came the Brahms D-minor Sonata, last, most concise and best of his three. It got exactly the right performance: on the somewhat reserved side, aloof from the easy sentiment that can turn the middle movements mushy. (I treasure the old Szigeti/Petri recording; this performance came close.)
This was a great evening: violin and piano without flash or schmaltz; even the encores were unusual; when did you last hear the Sibelius Country Dances? The crowd was of excellent size; the few empty seats were over on the right side.
The weekend’s offerings were mostly a sad affair, saddest of all with the news that Steven Stucky’s services as new-music advisor, or consulting composer – or whatever the title – are apparently winding down. No orchestra to my knowledge has drawn so richly, so continuously on such valued advice as the service Stucky has afforded the Philharmonic since coming aboard in 1988. An exceptional composer in his own right, he has guided composers through the process of having their music heard without regard to favoring a particular style or musical language. Just the way he has spoken about new music – all kinds of new music – at the pre-concert events in BP Hall is been of a quality I have never heard matched at any other orchestra I have visited. In short, he has created both an orchestra and an audience for new music that has been a vital part of this city’s musical growth. He will be irreplaceable.
There was a small, prickly and delightful work by Stucky at this weekend’s concert: Son et Lumière, a charmer, nicely managed by Leonard Slatkin and the orchestra. There wasn’t much else. Tchaikovsky’s R&J sort of flopped along, a gloomy fustian Violin Concerto by Glazunov sounded the way Hilary Hahn was garbed, and then there was the portentous tosh of a Third Symphony by former Chief Executive Bill Schuman, Don’t get me started.
OBITUARY PAGE: If I were to keep up with deaths or cancellations in the realm of arts criticism I would need to run this column 24/7 which, in my advanced years, might be difficult. However, you might be interested to learn that, for the second time in a year, I have been ushered into the ranks of the unemployed. Bloomberg News, which scooped me up last April when the LA Weekly was obliged to curtail its culture, has now dropped its freelance arts coverage, for the usual reasons. I asked my editor whether this included John Simon’s theater reviews and was told, “No, his name is on the sides of buses.” If someone has a bus for sale, cheap, I’d like to hear. At least they can’t fire me from “So I’ve Heard.”
Watch this space.