Music review: The L.A. Philharmonic conducted by Christoph Eschenbach

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Christoph Eschenbach has been on a hot streak with the Los Angeles Philharmonic lately, having turned in some intense, highly individual performances of Mahler’s Sixth and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphonies in his last two visits.

The Philharmonic probably thought it would be a good idea to capture this collaboration while the flame is still burning — and so, the microphones for iTunes were out again in Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday (and will be through the weekend’s dual 2 p.m. concerts).

They were lucky. The intensity was still there — maybe hotter than ever — in the rambunctious performance of Dvorák’s “Carnival” Overture at the beginning, and the combustion continued to the end, even in a piece that rarely gets that kind of commitment.

That would be Dvorák’s “New World” Symphony — so popular, so familiar, so overplayed (the Phil had just done it in late August at Hollywood Bowl) that you wondered what could possibly justify another performance so soon. But when the cellos played the introduction with such richly textured feeling and Eschenbach awakened the following salvo with a jolt, you knew. This was an edge-of-your-seat performance that took many risks.


The slow movement drifted at a glacial yet meaningfully still pace that must have been tough to sustain. At one point the thread nearly snapped. Eschenbach slammed his way through many of the fiery passages, repeatedly applied the brakes in a daringly gradual manner and inserted slight hesitations before some climactic chords. It was quite a ride — rethinking and freshening as it went.

The real attraction for the connoisseur of undeserved rarities was the gorgeously tingling, glistening, alluring Szymanowski Violin Concerto No. 1 — still a stranger in the concert hall even though the philharmonic first performed it in 1932, when the composer was alive.

On Thursday, there was an incident that you will not hear on the download. Almost four minutes into the piece, soloist Christian Tetzlaff broke a string — and rather than exchange instruments with the concertmaster, as is often the custom, the performance stopped and the violinist scurried into the wings. When Tetzlaff returned and everyone started back at the beginning, his second pass at the opening was startlingly more abandoned and passionate than the first, and continued that way as Eschenbach meticulously X-rayed the exotically colored texture and urgently whipped up massive climaxes.

Eschenbach leaves a charged-up orchestra for Gustavo Dudamel — who was in the audience Thursday — next week.

--Richard S. Ginell

Above: Eschenbach in a 2008 appearance with the L.A. Phil. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times