Music review: Pablo Heras-Casado, Martin Chalifour and L.A. Phil


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The career of Pablo Heras-Casado has been rocketing along as of late –- a debut with the Berlin Philharmonic last October, landing an American post as principal conductor of New York’s Orchestra of St. Luke’s in December, and so forth. He has a lot on his plate -– chamber music, early music, opera, standard symphonic repertoire -– yet seems to be most celebrated for his work with new music.

So in his return to Walt Disney Concert Hall on Saturday afternoon, Heras-Casado offered something new -– the West Coast premiere of a violin concerto by James Matheson, director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Composer Fellowship Program –- following a rather blunt, lean-and-mean rendition of Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture with the orchestra.


The Matheson concerto was first performed in December by Esa-Pekka Salonen (who recently wrote an impressive violin concerto himself) and the Chicago Symphony. It must be a coincidence that both Matheson’s and Salonen’s concertos open in a similar way, with perpetual-motion violin right from the starting gate.

The violin carries on unlikely dialogues with the celesta and the tuba, plows through a slow-movement Chaconne in double-stops, kicks up its heels to the rhythm section of snapping strings in the Finale. The piece seems to have some dead spots in the first-movement orchestral portions -- at least upon a first hearing -- yet Martin Chalifour’s violin rose heroically to the virtuosic challenges and sang sweetly in the lyrical parts. Richard Strauss’s “Ein Heldenleben” can still bowl you over in a really passionate performance, but Heras-Casado could only do so in isolated flashes. There are times when he mistakes slowness for profundity, stretching out some passages too much to get any payoff –- and three observed pauses were so long that one feared the audience might think the piece was over.

Still, it’s always a sensual pleasure to hear “Heldenleben” in Disney Hall, where so much complex detail can finally be heard sharply.


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-– Richard S. Ginell