The Los Angeles Philharmonic came up with the slogan “Romance at the Phil” for Thursday night’s concert, which fell upon Valentine’s Day. Indeed, the couples attracted by this premise looked dressier than usual for a weeknight -- and there was a post-concert party where they could order Champagne, strawberries and other treats, and have their pictures taken with funny props, such as a Cleopatra headdress or a Viking helmet.
But really, it was a bit of a marketing stretch to put the label of “romance” on a program containing Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides” Overture, Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and Richard Strauss’s “Don Quixote” -- aside from the delusional Don’s imaginary infatuation with Dulcinea.
Better to concentrate upon another welcome visit from Charles Dutoit, who was recently designated as conductor laureate of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The line on Dutoit has always been that he excels with the French and the Russians, yet the 76-year-old maestro also had significant things to say in the German repertoire.
The opening of the Mendelssohn emerged in smooth, elegant waves, and Dutoit could also whip up a lot of vehemence in the more turbulent passages -- a most distinguished performance. Mozart emerged graciously yet with a solid body of texture and rhythm -- and as if to foil those who applauded vigorously after the first and second movements, Dutoit launched the finale with scarcely a pause after the Menuetto.
After giving a splendid lilt to “Don Quixote’s” opening measures, Dutoit exploited Walt Disney Concert Hall’s ability to clarify Strauss’ complex orchestrations; the seething effects Strauss gets from the winds and brasses never sounded so clear and biting.
Cellist Gautier Capuçon’s tone had a rough edge in the beginning, but he was able to produce some open-hearted, songful playing down the stretch, and Philharmonic principal violist Carrie Dennis turned in a characterful portrait of Sancho Panza.
For what it’s worth, Capuçon was also credited with curating the “playlist” for the post-concert party.
Los Angeles Philharmonic with Charles Dutoit, Gautier Capuçon and Carrie Dennis; Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; $20-$195; (323) 850-2000 or www.laphil.com.