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Review: L.A. Phil program switch is in masterful hands with Andsnes

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When the boilerplate disclaimer, “Programs, dates and artists subject to change,” appears on a Los Angeles Philharmonic publication, be prepared to take it seriously. This seems to happen a lot in the Gustavo Dudamel era -- and the changes were especially convoluted in regard to this week’s programming.  So be patient as we sort them out.

As originally announced, the U.S. premiere of Brett Dean’s “The Last Days of Socrates” was to have taken place Thursday night, followed by three repeat performances. It would have been coupled with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 Thursday and Friday, and Concerto No. 2 Saturday and Sunday. 

But as of a month ago, reportedly due to the (unexpected?) length of Dean’s work (estimated at 55 minutes), the deck was reshuffled. The Dean piece will be heard Saturday and Sunday only, with the Concerto No. 4 replacing the Concerto No. 2.  Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes doubled down on Thursday, playing both concertos with Dudamel and the L.A. Phil, and will do so as well on Friday.

So depending upon one’s tastes, Thursday’s audience – which was somewhat short of capacity – received more, or less, than it might have bargained for.

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Fortunately, the two Beethoven concertos were in masterful hands.  Andsnes waited until his 40s before attempting to record Beethoven’s concertos – his excellent self-conducted Sony CD of Nos. 1 and 3 with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra came out a year ago; the rest await release, and his performances of Nos. 2 and 4 continued the pattern of searching maturity coupled with good rhythm and sharp articulation. 

Andsnes’ pianissimos melted yet every note was clear, and the Finales from both concertos had a lively feeling of swing and momentum at relatively fast tempos. While Andsnes’ Beethoven is not a fire-breathing thing, it mixed well with Dudamel’s virile, now-and-then brusque approach – and occasionally Dudamel and Andsnes would pull a little surprise, like holding back on the tempo at one point in the Finale of the Concerto No. 2 before accelerating effectively back to the original speed.  

The only unchanged component on all four programs was the opening – a rare live performance of Beethoven’s “The Ruins of Athens” Overture where the baton-less Dudamel caught the tentative dread of the opening and invested the rest with his usual energy and attention to small details. 

And not merely content to play two concertos in one evening, Andsnes topped off the all-Beethoven evening with a fluid Bagatelle No. 1 from Op. 33 as an encore.

Meanwhile, check back with Culture Monster on Monday for a review of the weekend's debut of Dean’s “The Last Days of Socrates.”

ALSO:

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Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel, Leif Ove Andsnes: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.; 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; $77.50 - $200; (213) 850-2000 or www.laphil.com.

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