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Music review: Susan Graham, Christian Zacharias and the L.A. Phil at Disney Hall

October 31, 2010 |  1:48 pm

Susan_graham_promo03 Beethoven, Mozart and Bach were on the docket for conductor-pianist Christian Zacharias and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall Saturday night. But if that sounds like the evening was a routine roll-call of the standard brand names, read on. 

Beethoven was represented not by a symphony or concerto, but by about two-thirds of his hourlong, rarely programmed ballet “The Creatures Of Prometheus”; indeed, the Philharmonic apparently had never performed this much of the work before. The Mozart portion was a concert aria, “Ch’io mi scordi di te?” and “Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio” from the somewhat-off-the-beaten-path opera “La Clemenza di Tito.”  And the Bach wasn’t Johann Sebastian, but one of his many sons, Carl Philipp Emmanuel.

The featured vocal soloist was a mystery for a long time.  Her identity was not revealed when the 2010-11 season was announced in February. Even the house program magazine this month left the name blank.

But when crunch time came, the Phil delivered a star, the formidable mezzo-soprano Susan Graham. She was in rich, blooming, passionate form, her voice easily negotiating any and all rapid flurries, with “Ch’io mi scorda di te?” sensitively underscored by Zacharias’ piano.  Her allotted time was all-too-brief, almost a cameo. 

C.P.E. Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor, H. 427, Wq. 23, sits right on the nexus between the baroque and classical periods, often taking strange harmonic turns before landing on its feet.  Likewise, Zacharias chose to straddle a stylistic line, playing a modern grand piano while employing a harpsichord continuo and little-or-no vibrato in the strings.

While the “Prometheus” Overture has long been a repertoire staple, the rest of the score is not –- and one wonders why, for it is an ingratiating mixture of Beethoven-lite, unusual textures, and the powerful, direct rhetoric of the symphonies.  Moreover, the finale has a hit tune -– and Beethoven knew it, repeating the melody over and over before developing it in three other works, most famously in the “Eroica” Symphony.  Zacharias’ pacing was equally convincing in “Prometheus’ ” easygoing and muscular aspects, and clarinetist Michele Zukovsky expertly wielded the esoteric basset horn in one number.   

-– Richard S. Ginell   

Photo: Susan Graham. Credit: © Dario Acosta