A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Pianist Lise de la Salle / Photo courtesy of LA Phil

The Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda was in town this past Friday to lead the LA Phil in two works by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, with the French pianist, Lise de la Salle, and the Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44. Because it was Casual Friday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the third piece that was performed on Thursday and Saturday, The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29, was omitted from the program.

While we would have liked to hear The Isle of the Dead, we can point out that Casual Friday concerts are perfect for the person working downtown or nearby who wants to grab a bite to eat somewhere, or even in the Concert Hall café, hear a great concert and get to know the orchestra members. Before the concert starts, a musician introduces herself to the audience, and after the concert the audience is invited to stay in the hall for a discussion with a featured performer and then to mingle with the musicians over drinks in the café.

The two pieces on the program were composed within two years of each other and have consecutive opus numbers. They represent somewhat of a departure from Rachmaninoff’s earlier works in that they are less blatantly Romantic and, although each does contain some lush writing, especially for the strings — which sounded gorgeous as they always do — it is nothing like the second symphony or the second and third piano concertos for which Rachmaninoff was often criticized for being overly emotional. The present works contain more modern writing for a larger orchestra and are both great concert pieces.

The concert opened with the Paganini variations. De la Salle walked onstage with tight black pants and cowboy boots and, partly because of her attire and partly because she appeared a little gawky and shy, she looked her young age of 24 (see our last review of de la Salle). But when she began playing, it was a different story. And by the end of the piece, it was clear that the audience had just heard one of the premier young pianists of our time. Make no mistake, the Paganini variations, like all of Rachmaninoff’s piano works, are very difficult. After all, he wrote it for himself, and he was first a concert pianist and then a composer. De la Salle was completely up to the task. It was a sight to see her fingers flying over the keyboard and her cowboy boots on the pedals. And the audience didn’t have to worry about the orchestra overshadowing her because she played big.

The concert concluded, without intermission, with the Symphony No. 3, which consists of three movements, although the allegro vivace section of the second movement is functionally a third (scherzo) movement.

Maestro Noseda was fun to watch. Tall and lanky, he moved around the podium like a ballet dancer caressing the orchestra not only with his hands and wide sweeping movements of his arms, but also with his entire body, sometimes crouching almost in a squat to evoke more quiet playing. Although he conducted both pieces with a score — understandable because they are not often played — he definitely knew the music.

It was a treat to hear these pieces performed by two exciting artists and the gifted LA Phil.

— Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA