For their last 2012 program in Glendale’s Alex Theatre Saturday night, Jeffrey Kahane and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra needed no soloists other than Kahane himself. The program was three-fourths American – Gershwin, Copland and John Adams – with one Czech interloper, Dvorák, who came to America well after the included Serenade for Winds, Op. 44 was written.
It easily could have been an all-American program – there’s a universe of superb chamber-orchestra pieces to choose from – but as it emerged, one could sense some interlocking of gears that made the evening a unified whole. For one thing, the Dvorák Serenade, Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” suite and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” all conclude with much the same material with which they began. And the Dvorák piece – as performed with shining solo work by the LACO winds – offered some uncanny, if coincidental, premonitions of pastoral Copland and the staccato cleverness of Adams’ “Son of Chamber Symphony.”
With its funny pop-culture title (think “Son of Frankenstein”) and cartoonish antic spirit, “Son of Chamber Symphony” is every bit a sequel to Adams’ earlier chamber symphony – and also a rhythmically difficult thing to navigate. To me, the LACO didn’t quite get its bearings in the first movement – some of the rhythms sounded tentative or out-of-kilter – but the group was more comfortable with the less-taxing second movement and the finale’s self-parodying bumpity-bump machine.
In the original 13-instrument version of “Appalachian Spring” as adapted for the suite, the multi-tasking Kahane took the unusual step of conducting from the piano (not a solo part as in a concerto), producing a lean, intimate sound quite at odds with the vast prairie panoramas that the orchestral version evokes.
Likewise, Kahane – again leading from the keyboard – went back to the original jazz band instrumentation of “Rhapsody in Blue,” which was also transformative. Kahane rightly says that this version of "Rhapsody" makes it sound like a “radical” piece – and he played it like one, with a marvelously abandoned approach where if a few notes went astray, it didn’t matter. The LACO sounded raucous yet right, a credible re-creation of the original 1920s Paul Whiteman sound.
As he does now and then, Kahane gave early birds something extra during the pre-concert “prelude,” teaming with concertmaster Margaret Batjer in a lovely, subtle performance of more Dvorák – the Four Romantic Pieces for Violin and Piano.