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Music review: Kurt Masur and Sarah Chang with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Concert Hall

March 25, 2011 | 11:17 am

Masur The grand old maestro Kurt Masur is making a grand tour of the leading American orchestras this spring. San Francisco saw him two weeks ago and after he finishes up in Los Angeles this weekend, it’s on to Chicago, his old orchestra in New York, Cleveland, D.C. and Philadelphia.  He’s 83 now, thinner and gaunter than memory recalls, but still keeping up a most active pace.

Thursday night’s concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic was Masur’s first in Walt Disney Concert Hall. The menu was 19th century Central European standards, exactly what one would expect from him. And Masur’s presence here would seem to indicate that whatever reported friction there might have been between Masur and Los Angeles Philharmonic president Deborah Borda when they were with the New York Philharmonic in the 1990s has vanished.

From the opening bars of Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides” Overture, the L.A. Philharmonic sounded different –- mellower, warmer.  Masur has made Mendelssohn a personal cause throughout his long career, and you could sense his special affection for this composer –- the sea waves rolling in deliciously, the storms charged with vigor and power.

In the Brahms Violin Concerto, Masur has served as a wise elder to violinist Sarah Chang, working on and thinking about the piece together for a long time until finally they recorded it a couple of years ago. I’ll admit right away that I don’t agree with Chang’s approach; her fierce, cutting tone quality would be more suited for, say, the Shostakovich or Britten concertos. But Masur framed her playing perfectly, terracing the orchestral dynamics around her, eliciting gorgeously rounded work from the winds in the opening of the second movement.

Dvorák’s bucolic Symphony No. 8 had plenty of rambunctiousness when needed, yet the most compelling points were made in the less vigorous sequences –- the broad, smooth opening bars of the second movement laden with some mystery, the upward lilt of the third movement waltz. Best of all were the variations toward the close of the finale -– even more relaxed in tempo than usual, with beautifully arched phrases and a lovely stillness. Sometimes Masur, whose gestures are minimal anyway, just stood still and let the orchestra play out. 

 -– Richard S. Ginell

Los Angeles Philharmonic with Kurt Masur and Sarah Chang: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.; 8 p.m. Saturday and 2  p.m. Sunday; $53-$172; (323) 850-2000 or www.laphil.com.

Photo: Kurt Masur. Credit: Frans Jansen


Comments () | Archives (3)

In my 18 years as an LA Phil season ticket holder, the Dvorak 8 Saturday night might be the best played piece I've ever heard by this orchestra. It was ridiculous. And it's not even one of my favorite pieces. But they played the heck out of it and made it one of those once-in-a-decade live performance experiences that I always wait for and seldom encounter.

Every section of the orchestra, even though minus some section principals, played with enormous technical precision -- seemed like everybody was inhaling and exhaling in unison -- but also with a freedom and enjoyment that just made you relax and smile throughout. Geez the strings sounded awesome, but so did the two trumpeters, and so did the woodwinds.

And Masur's still got it. Thanks to all for making Saturday with the Phil a night to remember.

I agree with the other comment here. Masur's Dvorak brought the Los Angeles Philharmonic into the heights I thought were only occupied by the Concertgebouw, Vienna, and Berlin. His Mendelssohn was astonishing too: not because it was flashy: because it was perfect.

You were right in saying that Sarah Chang's fierce, cutting tone quality is more suited for the Shostakovich concerto. The fact that she used the same fierce, cutting tone on the most sublime Brahms concerto is not a result of her conscious choice in her approach but a blatant example of her lack of musicality to discern her tone quality and to understand the stylistic differences since she plays with the same "approach" to all the concertos I've heard her. Sadly her claim-of-fame, powerhouse technique was hugely wanting in her execution as well. I sincerely hope the star is not burning out at such a young age!


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