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Review: Long Beach Symphony takes on Arvo Part

March 9, 2009 |  4:30 pm

Arvo Pärt While visiting the Tate Modern gallery in London one October day in 2002, the mystic composer from Estonia, Arvo Pärt (right), was floored by a huge Anish Kapoor installation called “Marsyas.”

He thought he was standing in a time warp in front of his own body, dead, stuck in the twilight zone between the present and the future.

“In this moment I had a strong sense of not being ready to die,” Pärt wrote in the liner notes to his ECM album “Lamentate.” “And I was moved to ask myself just what I could still manage to accomplish in the time left to me.”

That epiphany gave birth to a sprawling musical homage -- also titled “Lamentate” -- which Long Beach Symphony conductor Enrique Arturo Diemecke boldly injected into the middle of a Wagner-Dvorák sandwich at the Terrace Theater on Saturday night.

It opens impressively -- and a bit jarringly for Pärt -- with an ominous roll of the bass drum and a tremendous, sliding orchestral crescendo that chillingly recalls those in the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” He then settles into his familiar métier of spare, somber contemplations of time and space for well over a half-hour. A to-the-point -- indeed, anti-virtuosic -- solo pianist acts as a visitor, perhaps Pärt himself contemplating that sculpture and confronting his mortality.

Alas, on the ground floor of the Terrace Theater, with its distant, two-dimensional sound projection, this performance didn’t quite register. New music champion Gloria Cheng was the soloist, playing with exquisite restraint, letting the notes hang there in infinity, yet she could barely be heard through the orchestra.

Diemecke’s pacing seemed rather nervous in spots; the “Day in the Life” crescendo came off blandly where it should have been terrifying.

On a good home stereo, “Lamentate” can be powerful and transfiguring. Here, the reaction would be that all-purpose, noncommittal word, “Interesting....”

Diemecke’s natural dynamism was better suited for Wagner’s Overture to “The Flying Dutchman,” which he whipped up with impulsive thrusts and swatches of color at hard-driving tempos.

He also displayed a good feeling for the swing of Dvorák’s rhythms as well as his lyrical countryside moods. Here, instead of the usual Symphony No. 7, 8 or 9, Diemecke selected the lesser-known Symphony No. 5, which has plenty of good tunes and Czech local color to go around.

The Long Beach Symphony handled everything solidly and competently, though one wondered whether the jubilation of the symphony’s coda would have made a bigger impact upstairs -- or in a different hall.

-- Richard S. Ginell

Photo: Arvo Pärt in 2005. Credit: Roberto Masotti

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