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Music review: Herbert Blomstedt conducts the L.A. Philharmonic

February 7, 2010 | 10:01 am

Blomstedt On Casual Fridays at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Los Angeles Philharmonic musicians play in street clothes and hang around after the concert in the lobby for drinks and talk.  A nice idea -- but some value-conscious consumers know that one or more of the pieces on the weekend’s program are usually missing, even though the ticket prices are the same as on any regular Friday night.

Fortunately for Friday night's audience, this edition of Casual Fridays was the only such concert this season that did not delete anything from the program, also set for Saturday and Sunday – except for the intermission. There were just two works to deal with, anyway – Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 – and to leave either out would have made for a pretty light concert. 

For this bedrock symphonic coupling, the Phil turned to a familiar guest, Herbert Blomstedt – still trim and vigorous at 82 and more than willing to stay after the concert for the Q-and-A session onstage.  When asked whether he still gets excited about playing a Beethoven symphony at this stage in his game, he said, “Our excitement is 10 times what your excitement is.”

That’s reassuring, yet up until the finale, we were just hearing more-or-less standard-issue Beethoven – tempos right down the middle, just enough rhythm and forward motion, just enough Germanic weight. Aside from Joseph Pereira’s splendidly sharp, explosive timpani work in the opening movement, nothing extraordinary was happening.

But in the finale, the performance definitely caught fire, with Blomstedt getting the rhythm going forcefully, building to a tremendous coda.  Not every performance of  this rock 'em, sock 'em movement delivers what Mahler called the Dionysian effect, but this one did.

The Haydn symphony – nicknamed “The Clock” for the slow movement’s tick-tock accompaniment – can be played in a way that looks forward to the muscular energy of Beethoven.  But this performance
generally stayed on the genteel side –  with much attention paid to dynamic shadings, a straight-faced observation of Haydn’s practical jokes, with perhaps slight touches of period-performance-influenced string technique in spots.

In the Haydn, Blomstedt eschewed both baton and podium (he reverted to both in the Beethoven), preferring to stand virtually among his players.

-- Richard S. Ginell

Blomstedt conducts Beethoven with the Los Angeles Philharmonic: 2 p.m. Sunday, Walt Disney Concert Hall. Click here for information from the L.A. Phil website.

Photo: Herbert Blomstedt in his Casual Friday attire. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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