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Music review: Neeme Jarvi, Ralph Kirshbaum and L.A. Phil at Disney Hall

March 16, 2012 | 12:20 pm

Neeme-Jarvi-and-Ralph-Kirsh
This post has been corrected, as indicated below.

There are two interlocking storylines at Walt Disney Concert Hall this weekend: the culmination of the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, and the belated return of Estonian-born maestro and patriarch of a conducting dynasty, Neeme Järvi.  

A prolific recording conductor, to say the least -- you name it and it’s probably in Järvi’s discography somewhere -- and once a frequent visitor here, it seems that Järvi hasn’t led the Los Angeles Philharmonic since a 1990 Hollywood Bowl date, and hasn’t conducted the Phil downtown since 1989.  So the orchestra is taking advantage of Järvi’s versatility in a most unusual and festive way: He is accompanying three different cellists, one per concert, in five different pieces.

The first cellist out of the gate Thursday night was Ralph Kirshbaum, tackling the signature cello concerto of the repertoire, that of Dvorák.  Deadly routine can set in with a piece played as often as this, but Kirshbaum gave it an extra push -- not always precisely in tune yet full of gutsy expression and, particularly toward the end, drawing us in with varying tone colors. 

Next up: Mischa Maisky on Saturday and Alisa Weilerstein on Sunday.

Järvi -- now 74 and, as ever, a master of economical, telling gestures -- opened the concert with a Dvorák “Carnival” Overture whose outer sections ripped and roared as much as you might want, delivered with bracing clarity by the Philharmonic. 

The main orchestral course was Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.  Järvi, wouldn’t you know it, has recorded all 15 symphonies, if somewhat unevenly, but the Fifth was one of his best recordings in that cycle. Thursday’s performance more-or-less confirmed Järvi’s sane way with the Fifth -- tempos right down the middle, the argument unfolding logically with textural clarity, missing just the last ounce of intensity.  Also, Järvi’s treatment of the Finale’s controversial coda has brightened a bit, no longer quite as slow and beaten-down.

[For the record, 2:40 p.m., March 16: An earlier version of this story said that Järvi hadn't conducted the L.A. Philharmonic since 1994. His last appearance with the orchestra was in 1990.]

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-- Richard S. Ginell

 Los Angeles Philharmonic with Neeme Järvi; Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.; 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; $57-$180; (323) 850-2000 or www.laphil.org.

Photos: Top left: Neeme Järvi. Credit: Frederick Stucker. Top right: Ralph Kirshbaum. Credit: Henry Fair.

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