Esa-Pekka Salonen's efforts to bring new music into the Los Angeles Philharmonic repertory gets all the attention, but he also has been quietly reclaiming some old music that has been largely conceded in recent years to chamber orchestras and period specialists.
His latest concerts at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion featured early and late Haydn symphonies, surrounding Bartok's Second Violin Concerto, with Viktoria Mullova the elegant, intelligent protagonist.
Salonen's idea about the intrada of Haydn's "Drumroll" Symphony, No. 103, however, backfired Friday. He had tympanist Mitchell Peters elaborate the nickname-inspiring drum roll with rare--and irrelevantly jaunty--vigor while the conductor was walking to the podium.
Hard to believe that was the entrance Haydn had in mind. The predictable response to this apparent impromptu salute was much laughter and applause.
Now completely divorced from the subsiding drum roll from which it should emerge, the spare opening sounded pedestrian. Then the recurrence of Peters' over-excited cadenza seemed simply the obtrusive reiteration of a joke--Haydnesque, certainly, but inappropriate here--rather than a recollection of primal roots.
Past this miscalculation, Salonen led a crisply accented, well-proportioned reading. His downsized orchestra gave him a lithe and eager response, surprisingly soft-grained for a modern-instrument ensemble. Concertmaster Sidney Weiss played the big Andante solo with sprightly, somewhat thin-sounding flair.
Salonen reduced his orchestra more severely for the opening Symphony No. 22, "The Philosopher." He placed the distinctively paired English and French horns on either side to nice antiphonal effect, and enforced a quick, undemonstrative concept of the piece.
His orchestra again gave him nimble, slightly fuzzy work. Despite the appurtenances of amplification, Zita Carno's harpsichord remained more a musicologically correct symbol than a musically vital presence.
The central Bartok proved an effectively realized challenge to the fuller resources of the Philharmonic, and an imposing solo accomplishment. Mullova and Salonen seemed to exaggerate some of the smaller subdivisions of the complex structure, while integrating the larger sections with eloquent authority.
Mullova brought articulate virtuosity to the daunting task. She provided Bartok full benefit of sweet tone, pertinent, risk-accepting ideas and a sort of paradoxically controlled impetuosity.