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Review

Ageless Neville Marriner leads the Colburn Orchestra

At 90, Neville Marriner is in his prime - and speeding up the tempos

While conductors are supposed to be a long-lived breed, Neville Marriner’s durability is extraordinary. He’s 90, will be 91 on April 15, and he’s still vigorous and active, booked on tours into 2017 and 2018, according to the Independent. 

What’s more, Marriner is still very much in his prime musically. He and the group that he founded more than half a century ago, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, can be heard backing violinist Rachel Barton Pine in a new Avie CD set of all five Mozart violin concertos and the Sinfonia Concertante (released last Tuesday), with the Marriner trademarks of lively, mobile tempos, clear textures and infinite joie de vivre all gloriously intact. 

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For the record

Feb. 2, 2015, 1:55 p.m.: Neville Marriner was the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra's first music director, not its founder. The group was started by artistic founder James Arkatov with the financial backing of Richard Colburn and the managerial expertise of Joseph Troy.

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He may well be joining Leopold Stokowski as the two greatest nonagenarian conductors of all time.

Marriner was understandably greeted with a hero’s welcome at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sunday night, where he was the guest conductor-du-jour of the Colburn Orchestra from across the street. 

But he came not with the chamber-orchestra repertoire with which he, the academy and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (which he founded in 1969) made countless reference recordings.  This time, Marriner aimed big with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and even bigger with Holst’s wide-screen orchestral showpiece, “The Planets.”

No real surprise here, for there is a Marriner recording of “The Planets” from 1978 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; though theoretically still available on CD, it was mostly overlooked in the pile of other “Planets” over the decades.

Usually, conductors of an advanced age take mellower, slower approaches than they once did, but not Marriner; his tempos, if anything, have mostly gone up a notch, particularly in “Venus.”

He could get the right brassy, weighty, relentless playing from this excellent young orchestra in “Mars,” and the kids had no trouble handling his mercurial tempo in “Mercury.”

If there was one element from 1978 that remains elusive in Marriner’s “Planets,” it’s mystery; he’s always certain where he’s going. “Saturn” was rushed when it should meditate, and for once, the deep pipe organ underpinning was too loud, to the point where the sound seemed to break up in a weird stutter.

Yet “Neptune” was beautifully controlled, with all kinds of detail revealed in Disney Hall’s acoustics, and the treble contingency from the CSU Fullerton University Singers in the balcony achieved a convincing fadeout at the close.

In the Tchaikovsky concerto, Marriner skillfully and suavely accompanied the 20-year-old Canadian Blake Pouliot, who has a very interesting bio; he is also a composer, a television actor, a narrator, and plays keyboards in a pop band called SO3.

I suspect Pouliot brought something of a rock sensibility to his motions, peeling off phrases with a physical panache. Yet he can gracefully deliver the violinistic goods too, displaying a heavy, dark tone almost like that of a viola at times. 

With 70 years of difference in their ages, Pouliot and Marriner got on just fine.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

Update

Correction added.

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