The Los Angeles Philharmonic season is lumbering to a close. The ultimate cadence on April 29 may not come a hemidemisemiquaver too soon.
This has been a season of much activity, much strain and much unrest. It has been a season without the stabilizing presence of a music director.
Andre Previn, who returns for the final program next week, abandoned the post loudly and sadly when he felt that he could not work with the Philharmonic management. Esa-Pekka Salonen, his successor, remains an essentially mysterious figure looming on the distant horizon.
Until he really takes over, our orchestral fortunes languish in the hands of guest-conductors. It has been a long, uneven parade.
Thursday night, the baton was passed to David Zinman of the Baltimore Symphony. He became the 16th conductor to man the podium at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion since October, and the fourth in four weeks to contend with the rigors of a one-week stand.
Luckily, he is a thorough and seasoned professional. Nothing goes seriously wrong when he is in charge.
Unluckily, he is not the sort of leader who inspires the orchestra to new interpretive heights at short notice. Nor is he the sort of technician who can repair a deteriorating ensemble over night.
He spent the first half of this concert accompanying Pinchas Zukerman in a contrasting pair of concertos--a very old one by Mozart and a very new one by Mark Neikrug. After intermission, he attended to the folksy impulses and climactic bombast of Tchaikovsky's "Little Russian" Symphony.
As a cruel fate and a tired orchestra would have it, the only really interesting item on the agenda turned out to be the Neikrug concerto, which was receiving its West Coast premiere. Written in 1982 when the composer was 36, it documents a sometimes abrasive, sometimes ethereal, sometimes inarticulate conversation between a virtuoso fiddle and an agitated orchestra.
Although the language relies upon certain serial procedures, tonal centers are seldom obscured. Neikrug seems occasionally to succumb to the gnarled formulas of academic busy-music. He can sustain flights of elegiac lyricism, however, and he is a master of the whomping climax. The concerto covers a lot of ground in 21 compact minutes. Zukerman played it with dynamic generosity and startling flexibility, not to mention expressive conviction.
The expressive conviction proved particularly welcome after his performance of Mozart's A-major Concerto. It was vaguely romantic in (mis)conception, essentially lethargic in execution.
Zinman and the orchestra provided an untidy frame for the Mozart. They went on to furnish the soloist with an apparently competent counterforce in the Neikrug.
The precision factor rose appreciably in the Tchaikovsky symphony. Here, the conductor could at least enforce crisp phrasing and primitive contrasts. He could be blamed only partially for the gut-thumping vulgarity of the finale.