They've done it again. As in previous years, the pool of young instrumental talent gathered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute has quickly coalesced into a remarkably fine-sounding orchestra.
On the evidence of its first concert, Sunday evening in friendly, flattering Royce Hall, the 1990 edition of the Institute Orchestra has all the eager energy of its predecessors, plus an already developed idiosyncratic sonic sheen.
As conducted by Heiichiro Ohyama, the big piece for the orchestra--Brahms' First Symphony--proved big indeed. Powerful, highly contrasted and almost exaggeratedly outsize, Ohyama's Brahms exerted a strong, often ponderous presence. Within the context of this monumental approach, fussy detailing and tempo fluctuations sometimes sapped momentum, but in cumulative impact seemed Mahlerian, both for better and for worse.
The players met Brahms'--and Ohyama's--demands honorably. Their sound was never strident, and generally evenly balanced, although the strings could be easily submerged in the climaxes. There were moments of unsettled intonation in the woodwinds, and Ohyama's finicky tailoring could challenge brass articulation, but the overwhelming impression was one of controlled ardor.
Equal poise and greater ensemble refinement were apparent in the orchestra's efforts on Elgar's Cello Concerto. Led by Stefan Sanderling, son of frequent Philharmonic guest Kurt Sanderling, the accompaniment proved worthy of the soloist.
Which was no small achievement. Lynn Harrell, artistic director of the institute, may well be the most eloquent and expressive of instrumentalists in music of haunted and sublime lyricism. He brought an operatic concern for nuance of phrase and timbral variety to the concerto, effortlessly delivering the full measure of bravura while wringing all the yearning pathos from it.
The evening began with a shimmering account of Mendelssohn's "Ruy Blas" Overture, deftly delineated by institute fellow Lan Shui, although at speeds that left some of the winds inarticulate.