A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Yefim Bronfman / photo courtesy of LA Phil

This past Sunday LA Phil Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returned to the podium to conduct a program of works by two of the three Bs — Brahms and Bach.

The first half of the program was devoted to a performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 by Brahms, with Yefim Bronfman at the keyboard. Although there is certainly a lot of sturm und drang in this concerto, especially in the first movement, there is also a reverential quality, especially in the second movement. This was a reflective and understated interpretation of the Brahms first piano concerto. Dudamel sensitively drew out the melodic lines and restrained the orchestra when needed. Brahms is, of course, a forte of Bronfman’s, and as powerful and commanding as his playing was in the first and last movements, it was ethereal in the beautiful second (Adagio) movement, perfectly conveying Brahms’ “gentle portrait” of Clara Schumann.

The second half of the program consisted of three works by Bach, two of which were modern arrangements, with a lot of comings and goings by musicians on stage. The first work was the Fuga (Ricercata) a 6 voci, from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079 as arranged by Anton Webern with spare orchestration, including strings and one each of horn, trumpet, trombone, flute, oboe, English horn, bassoon and harp. After the exhausting, richly orchestrated Brahms in the first half, Webern’s arrangement of the Bach Fuga had a calming effect, and Dudamel skillfully realized Webern’s 20th-century vision of an 18th-century masterpiece, which at times sounded almost minimalist.

The second Bach work was well known: the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068. The Suite is noteworthy for its lack of flutes and bassoons and its inclusion of three trumpets, and the LA Phil musicians gave a very spirited performance of each of the dances, except, of course, for the famous Air (known as the “Air on the G String”), which was played serenely.

The concert concluded with the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 as transcribed for large orchestra by Leopold Stokowski. Although Bach wrote the Toccata for organ, Stokowski’s transcription for orchestra doesn’t detract from the overall effect of the piece because it was already large. Dudamel milked this over-the-top transcription of the Bach masterpiece for all it was worth, coming full circle from the large-scale concerto by Brahms in the first half.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

For information about upcoming concerts, visit www.laphil.com.