The subscription audience at the Los Angeles Philharmonic concert, Friday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center, gave Pierre Boulez a hero's welcome when he returned, barely a year after his last appearance here, to lead our orchestra.
Not on his first entrance, though that greeting was friendly enough, nor on his second, when the applause was enthusiastic but general. But, after the first scheduled work, Boulez's own "Notations," which opened the program proper. Then, in response to this overture-like, four-movement piece, which seems to sum up the French composer-conductor's seriousness, facets and wit in eight brief minutes, the audience erupted in a small but pointed ovation. A tone was set.
The level of that beginning, played expertly and with mellow self-regulation of instrumental balances by the players of the Philharmonic, was maintained in the following main courses of the program, Luciano Berio's "Corale" for solo violin, two horns and strings, and Bela Bartok's complete ballet score to "The Wooden Prince." Boulez conducted all three works with his customary probity and concentration.
Berio, as shown in the 6-year-old "Corale," (and, earlier in the season, with his Brahms transcription) seems bent on a career of re-composition, even on pushing that career beyond Stravinskyan limits.
In "Corale," Berio has built, on the bare bones of his "Sequenza VIII" for solo violin, a little violin concerto, one just 16 minutes long, but nevertheless thoroughly complicated and convoluted in the Berio style. Abrasive, eventful, driven and earnest, it gives both the casual and the hard-thinking listener no rest. Mark Kashper, the Philharmonic's associate principal second violin, was the assured, resourceful and conscientious soloist.
Of Bartok's three works for the stage, his score for the ballet, "The Wooden Prince" (1914-16) is the most neglected. Indeed, in its 68-year history, our Philharmonic had not played the work until Friday night.
"The Wooden Prince" (or, as Halsey Stevens translates it, The Prince Made of Wood) may lack the psychological and emotional depths of "Duke Bluebeard's Castle" or the virtuoso display and kaleidoscopic effects of "The Wonderful Mandarin," but it does not deserve such neglect. As conducted masterfully by Boulez, and played with controlled but contagious enthusiasm by the Philharmonic, the unfamiliar piece showed abundant charms, handsome tunes and colorful passages. Now that it has been taken out of the closet, it ought to be shown around.
At the beginning of the program, Boulez conducted Mozart's "Masonic Funeral Music" in a performance dedicated to the memory of Danny Kaye, who died last Tuesday.