Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Chapela, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky at Long Beach




REVIEW

Long Beach Symphony at the Terrace Theater, Long Beach Performing Arts Center
DAVID J BROWN

The Long Beach Symphony Orchestra’s last classical concert of 2022 already showed signs of the impending holiday season, at least in its second half. This was all Tchaikovsky, the first item after the interval being the suite prepared by unknown hands from his first full-length ballet, Swan Lake, Op. 20, and thus not more than a few pirouettes away from the perennial Christmas season favorite, The Nutcracker.

Tchaikovsky at the time he wrote 1812.
But July 4th was, rather, the holiday most likely to be suggested by the final item, The Year 1812, Solemn Overture, Op. 49, composed in 1882. This was a surprisingly rare opportunity to experience 1812 as a regular concert item, instead of the excuse that it usually is for wheeling on a local brass band and detonating batteries of fireworks during the last five minutes or so, and both the orchestra and Music Director Eckart Preu seized it with relish.

The richness and homogeneity of the divided cellos’ and violas’ delivery of the Russian Eastern Orthodox melody with which 1812 begins was cherishable, sounding prayerful but also premonitory of the conflict to come at maestro Preu’s suitably flowing treatment of its Largo marking. Though even his energetic conducting and the LBSO’s fervent response didn’t quite manage to disguise that Tchaikovsky perhaps delays the final conflagration once too often, when it finally arrived it lived up to expectations, with the (pre-recorded) cannon-shots delivering satisfying crumps without obliterating everything else or setting off any alarms.

The Swan Lake suite was almost as successful, with Preu responding throughout its six movements with degrees of rubato and dynamic flexibility that always recognized and served the music’s essential dance character. The opening scene was unleashed with fluent dramatic élan, the waltz swirled voluptuously, the cygnets pranced with just the right degree of perkiness, and in the great central tableau Marcia Dickstein’s elegantly rippling harp set the scene for radiant accounts of that movement’s violin and cello solos by Roger Wilkie, concertmaster, and Cécilia Tsan, section principal, respectively.

Rachmaninoff in later life.
The only criticism that could be leveled was that the noticeably reduced upper strings were simply not numerous enough to deliver the full romantic heft that Tchaikovsky’s great melodies demand to make their full effect. Hopefully this was just the result of vacancies in the ranks not yet being filled, rather than any policy decision, as it was also true of the other great Romantic work in the program—albeit from two generations later—Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, which he composed aged 61 in 1934. 

Emphatically, though, lack of string weight was the only possible cavil about a performance that was otherwise as brilliant and mercurial as anyone could desire. The Moscow-born, New York-domiciled pianist Natasha Paremski’s account of the solo part was exceptionally elastic in tempo and expression, and the whole performance had a beguiling quasi-improvisatory quality equally shared by the conductor and orchestra.

l-r: Roger Goulette, Chair of LBSO Executive Committee; Natasha
Paremski; Kelly Ruggirello, LBSO President; Enrico Chapela; Eckart Preu.
The opening item was the one unfamiliar piece in the whole concert; indeed this was nothing less than a North American premiere, that of Rotor, written in 2017 by the Mexican composer Enrico Chapela

Señor Chapela was present for the performance and in a pre-concert conversation with Eckart Preu talked about some of the influences and wellsprings behind his 10-minute work, including jazz and heavy metal (his own rock band was also named Rotor).

Rotor constantly teased the ear with its kaleidoscope of percussive textures and overlapping, constantly changing rhythms, though the shadow of The Rite of Spring does loom over it, as it always does for any successor composition so based. In its metallic harshness Rotor also, to these ears, recalled some of the music associated with the Futurist movement of the 1910s and 1920s, such as George Antheil’s Ballet mécanique and Mosolov’s Iron Foundry—even in places bringing to the mind's eye images from Fritz Laing’s great film Metropolis.

It was nonetheless an unexpected and stimulating way to open a concert otherwise devoted to Russian Romanticism, and though a little more rehearsal time might have enabled the LBSO and maestro Preu to tighten and sharpen their performance even more, they negotiated Rotor’s unfamiliar complexities with skill and commitment, amongst them not least the valiant percussion team playing a multiplicity of instruments. 

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Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, Terrace Theater, Long Beach, Saturday, November 19, 2022, 8 p.m.
Images: Theater exterior/Orchestra: Todd Mason; Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff: Wikimedia Commons; VIPs: Long Beach Symphony.

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