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Music review: Jeffrey Kahane recital at Walt Disney Concert Hall

March 8, 2012 | 12:32 pm

Jeffrey Kahane
Pianist-conductor Jeffrey Kahane’s combination recital and chamber music concert on Wednesday at Walt Disney Concert Hall took a delightful detour when he performed his son Gabriel’s “Django: Tiny Variations on a Big Dog.”

Commissioned by Kahane père in 2008, the score was inspired by the family dog, named after the great jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Programmed between major works by Bach and Chopin, this rigorously inventive six-minute set of variations remarkably held its own.

Sounding hoarse from hay fever, Kahane told the Disney Hall audience it took him months to learn his son’s breakneck perpetual motion variation, “Mechanized Django.” He dazzlingly conveyed Django’s different moods, including a ragtime section evoking goofy canine charm.

Since becoming music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in 1997, Kahane hasn’t been seen much in recital. But he began his career as a pianist, winning a gold medal at the Arthur Rubinstein competition in 1983. Kahane opened with Bach’s French Suite No. 5 (BWV 816), performed with expressive warmth and fleet-fingered high spirits. His occasional ornamentations gave due consideration to Baroque performance practices without becoming precious, and he crisply articulated the ebullient concluding Gigue.

In Three Mazurkas by Chopin, Kahane rushed the Opus 24, No. 4, but relaxed and became more evocative in Opus 56, No. 3, and Opus 50, No. 3. He gave a tender, lilting account of Chopin’s Barcarolle. His sensitively shaped reading of the “Polonaise-Fantaisie,” the composer’s last major work for solo piano, left enough room for its mysteries to reverberate.

After intermission, Kahane was joined by two Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra colleagues, concertmaster Margaret Batjer and principal cellist Andrew Shulman, for a perfectly paced, well-blended rendition of Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1. Since this is Kahane’s 15th year with the orchestra, it was a mini-celebration of sorts. And the trio’s performance became a warm and engaging conversation between old friends.

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-- Rick Schultz

Photo: Jeffrey Kahane at his Santa Rosa home. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

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