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Music review: Jeffrey Kahane conducts the L.A. Chamber Orchestra

December 11, 2011 |  3:21 pm

Cellist Ralph Kirshbaum and conductor Jeffrey Kahane
At the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Saturday, Jeffrey Kahane led the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in works by Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Adès and Respighi. It was a night of musical and artistic tributes that brought the 17th and 18th centuries into the 21st.

Kahane and the orchestra fully conveyed the pathos in Ravel’s four-movement orchestrated version of his six-movement piano suite, "Le tombeau de Couperin," which opened the program. Begun by Ravel just before World War I as a tribute to the spirit of 18th-century French music, the score became a memorial to friends killed or wounded during that cataclysm. In the taxing oboe part, Allan Vogel supplied a poignant underpinning throughout, especially in the Menuet.

Tchaikovsky’s "Variations on a Rococo Theme," inspired by Mozart’s Classical elegance, gave listeners a chance to hear Texas-born cellist Ralph Kirshbaum, founding artistic director of L.A.’s upcoming inaugural Piatigorsky International Cello Festival. The cellist gave a technically uneven account that was nonetheless persuasive. Kirshbaum performed as if by feeling alone -– he never looked at his hands -- but his natural phrasing and poetry in the slower variations won out over moments of uncertain intonation and rough spots in technically demanding faster passages. His encore was an introverted reading of Bach’s Sarabande from the Suite No. 3.

KahaneAfter intermission, Kahane called Thomas Adès “already one of the greatest composers ever.” And based on his vibrant and colorful reading of the composer's "Three Studies From Couperin," it was hard to argue. The middle movement, which wittily deconstructs Couperin’s music, showcased LACO’s rhythmic suppleness.

While the string sections were being reconfigured -- Adès’ score required a double string orchestra -- violinist Julie Gigante honored the 20th anniversary of artist Kent Twitchell’s eight-story LACO tribute, “Harbor Freeway Overture,” which overlooks the northbound 110 Freeway downtown. Gigante, who is in the mural with fellow active ensemble members Vogel and principal violist Roland Kato, had Twitchell take a bow.

Then, Kahane and the orchestra gave an eloquent, songful rendition of Respighi's “The Birds.”

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-- Rick Schultz
Top photo: Cellist Ralph Kirshbaum and conductor Jeffrey Kahane. Credit: Ken Hively / For The Times. Lower photo: Kahane. Credit: Ken Hively / For The Times.
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