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Lortie Inspires Memories of Elegance Past

One really has to go back to some of the legendary pianists of the 1940s and ‘50s to put Louis Lortie, the 38-year-old Canadian musician who appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic over the weekend, in context.

Lortie’s playing of Rachmaninoff’s still lovable Second Piano Concerto belongs in a class with the Romantic accomplishments of models like Moura Lympany, Robert Casadesus and Guiomar Novaes, icons of those earlier times. With conductor Mark Elder and the Philharmonic, the Friday-night performance in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion recalled the beauties, elegance and understatement achieved by those virtuosos.

This is heart-on-sleeve music; that is why Lortie’s restraint, while giving every note and accent, phrase and nuance its due, hits its mark in opening the listener to the work’s still-powerful charms.

Of course the pianist meets and conquers all the technical challenges in the displays of the outer movements. As important, he caresses and gently prods deep feelings in the central Adagio. A great performance of a great work, in which Elder and the orchestra participated wholly.

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Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony (1936) also has its partisans, but claims of greatness may not stick. Instead, it is a work of thrilling rhetoric, regular violence and abundant hostility; it shows off an orchestra’s brilliance and a conductor’s control.

Friday, the Philharmonic, which had played the epic work on only one previous set of occasions--in 1989--made the showpiece shine and its shattering, angry moods compelling.

Elder, the 50-year-old British conductor, probed its abstract narrative and seemed to give it a followable scenario onto which one could attach the imagination. But the work rose up and hunkered down so often in this 68-minute revelation, this listener began to wonder if Shostakovich might have been wise to reconsider yet another draft.


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