To close his two-week stint with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conductor Andrew Litton offered a cogent argument for the least-often performed of Tchaikovsky's symphonies, Friday and Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
On Friday, the young conductor presided over a distinctive, transparent, richly detailed and altogether compelling account of the First Symphony ("Winter Dreams"), all the while keeping a sure perspective of the entire work. He elicited a lush and vibrant string sound, warm, expressive solos from the woodwinds and full-bodied, penetrating brilliance from the brass. His Adagio proved especially moving, for here he created a marvelous sense of intensity and dramatic flow. He erred only in coaxing the horns to play too loud.
Before intermission, Litton and pianist Malcolm Frager offered the same work that they presented in their 1987 Hollywood Bowl collaboration: Schumann's Piano Concerto. The difference this time was that they were performing the original version of the concerto's opening movement. In 1841 Schumann wrote a one-movement fantasy. Four years later he made some revisions and added two movements, giving birth to the familiar A-minor concerto.
Frager discovered the original fantasy a dozen years ago among several manuscripts in a German village and had the parts copied out. Notwithstanding his conviction that the original is a more "avant-garde" statement, few of the differences are really significant. The opening measures differ noticeably--the piano instead of the orchestra has the first word--and the cadenza ends differently, but the various spots where Schumann revised the wind scoring hardly change the character of the work.
Frager's uncommonly clean, accurate reading of the work made any discussion of the two versions a moot point. He delivered not a flashy, headlong performance, but one marked by balance and insight, by elegantly shaped melodic lines, well-defined contrasts and uncommon clarity. Unfortunately, his measured tempo took away some of the excitement one likes to hear in the Finale, but Frager's dynamic range almost made up for that. The members of the Philharmonic provided sure and sensitive support throughout.
Litton opened with a vibrant, well-defined account of Weber's "Oberon" Overture.