Sunday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Mehli Mehta led his American Youth Symphony in its 20th annual gala benefit concert. Such festive celebrations produce well-dressed audiences who rattle their programs and clap between movements, deliver push-button standing ovations--and players who may be trying just a little too hard.
Opening with Rossini’s Overture to “La Gazza Ladra”, the group sounded properly pumped-up for the event--and more than occasionally too loud. The famous wind solos were beguiling enough, but the overall effect was of an orchestra way too large for the wit and sensibility of opera buffa.
Misha Dichter was the night’s featured soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky. Rare indeed to discover any new insights in chestnuts such as this, and this occasion was no exception. Dichter seemed at odds with Mehta regarding the proper tempos of the outer movements, pushing ahead to the point of creating more tension than is in the music.
However, in eliciting rich and brilliant sound along with all the technique one could ask for, the conclusion of the work resulted in the standing ovation this composition seems to have written into it. Mehli’s forces provided professional accompaniment, but aside from a more successful Andantino, there remained a bursting-at-the-seams quality to the tuttis.
As part of its season-long cycle of Richard Strauss’ orchestral works, the orchestra offered the Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier.” Now it became clear that the ensemble had been in the Straussian mode all night, unable to switch gears.
But this half hour of music alone was worth the gala price of admission. The players proved ultraresponsive to their maestro, from chamber-like intimacy to spacious climaxes. Throw in an authentic Viennese lilt, and this time the ovations were both automatic and richly deserved.