Wigglesworth, Philharmonic Follow Beethoven’s Lead


At age 33, British conductor Mark Wigglesworth already does two things you’d expect of every conductor, though many fail to deliver. He balances an orchestra, and he honors the composer’s score.

That may sound like faint praise, but it’s not. The results are mesmerizing and electrifying.

In the case of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, one of two works on a Los Angeles Philharmonic program Thursday in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, this meant not only respecting the composer’s tempo markings in, say, the allegretto, which is almost always taken too slow, but also in following his dynamics and phrasing, which often are ignored.


As a result, the Philharmonic had depth, clarity and weight without being muddy or ponderous. Even though Wigglesworth took all the repeats and barely paused for breath between movements, the music danced and soared, while a multitude of orchestral details could be heard (though not all the lower string parts in the last movement).

This was not a performance in which the conductor ventured an individual interpretation, if by that one means a distortion of the score in some signature fashion. It was, however, an exciting realization of Beethoven’s music.

Excitement was not exactly the result with Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, in which Wigglesworth teamed up with soloist Stephen Kovacevich to open the program.

The two collaborated in more a lyric, even-handed venture than a dramatic struggle, whether between piano and orchestra or composer and fate. It was interesting. It rescued Brahms from some moldy Romantic encrustations and revealed a chamber transparency not usually heard in his orchestration. Still, the results often were muted and polite, lacking in fire.

Even so, Kovacevich gave a probing and layered account, though it was not one that was strongly individual in temperament or point of view.

Wigglesworth made sure the orchestra bathed the piano but didn’t submerge it. Simply radiant was Ronald Leonard’s cello solo in the slow movement. But so too was the playing of the whole section at that point. Add the sensitive pianissimos in the violins and you come full circle back to Wigglesworth balancing the orchestra and how important that is.


The conductor may yet decide to offer more personally distinctive “interpretations.” His career, after all, has just begun to take off. Right now, though, he can offer something better: the composer’s music.

* This program will be repeated today, 8 p.m., and Sunday, 2:30 p.m., Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. $8-$63. Kovacevich also will play in a Los Angeles Philharmonic Chamber Music Society program Tuesday, 8 p.m., Gindi Auditorium, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, West Los Angeles. $25. Information for both programs: (213) 850-2000.