LA Phil's colorful Stravinsky and Ravel, by way of Spain

By Truman C. Wang

Spanish pianist Javier Perianes

Spanish pianist Javier Perianes

The second week of the season, by fortuitous circumstances, injected some bright and bold Spanish colors into the music-making process.  The original French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard had to cancel due to a family emergency.  In his place was young Spanish pianist Javier Perianes.  Together with Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, they turned Ravel’s featherweight, whimsical Piano Concerto in G Major into a work of considerable substance and emotive power. 

Written simultaneously as the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in 1929-1931, the G-Major Concerto was described by the composer as “in the spirit of Mozart and Saint-Saëns, and includes some elements borrowed from jazz, but only in moderation.”  As performed by our Spanish duo last Friday evening, there was plenty of light and sunshine augmented by flashes of jazzy brilliance, notably in the first movement Allegramente.  What’s surprising was the Adagio assai, commonly played in the calm, meditative manner of a Satie miniature, here taking on an unabashed dose of sentiment under pianist Javier Periane’s sensitive touch – as well as Carolyn Hove’s achingly beautiful English horn solo – achieving an almost Schubertian simplicity and lyricism.  To these ears, Mr. Periane's refined pianism recalled that of the late Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha.

Conductor Heras-Casado ‘s Firebird clocked in at 47 minutes 25 seconds (yes I timed it exactly on my smartphone), quite a bit faster than many performances of the complete ballet.  Stravinsky called his Firebird orchestra “wastefully big”, featuring 3 harps, 4 Wagner tubas, 1 off-stage trumpet, and a full battalion of percussion.  There are basically two schools of Firebird conducting – one playing it like a ballet; the other playing it like a symphonic poem.  Maestro Heras-Casado falls into the latter category.  He really brought out the luscious, luminous orchestration of the music as well as quite a bit of savagery (anticipating Le sacre du printemps 3 years away).  It’s not the type of playing for dancing or even high poetry, but it sure was exciting drama.  The performance was only marred by an untimely burst of applause after the cataclysmic ‘Infernal Dance’, which the ‘Casual Friday’ audience had assumed was the work’s finale.  The Casual Friday Q&A format is a excellent concept to bring the classical arts to the masses.  However, in addition to educating the uninformed public about cellphone and photography etiquette, similar reminders for withholding applause and cough-muffling may also be sorely needed.  High Art must lift the masses up, not lower itself down.