Philharmonic reclaims Lutoslawski’s Fourth

Times Staff Writer

A series of climactic moments mark Esa-Pekka Salonen’s latest Los Angeles Philharmonic program -- the subtle, multicolored final moments of Ravel’s “Mother Goose” suite; the unsubtle, whirlwind conclusion of “La Valse”; the apparently chaotic yet perfectly ordered maelstrom of Witold Lutoslawski’s Fourth Symphony; and the rose-colored indulgences of Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs.”

At the event Thursday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, only the Lutoslawski work achieved its full peak. The other works, all skillfully performed, fell short.

The Philharmonic has excelled in Lutoslawski’s Fourth since giving it its world premiere in February 1993. Salonen and the orchestra took it on tour the following year. A decade later, it remains a fragmented, episodic work, unremittingly craggy. Thursday, however, under Salonen’s careful leadership and his ear for continuity, it emerged again as compellingly craggy.

It is short -- just over 20 minutes, and it probably is, as Salonen told the Thursday night audience, a masterpiece. More important, he said, it is “our masterpiece.” The performance gave credibility to that claim.


Despite careful playing and the orchestra’s awesome dynamic range, the two Ravel pieces lacked a similar continuity, and just went along.

Karita Mattila’s poised performance of the “Four Last Songs” thrilled a portion of the audience at this hearing -- some leaped to their feet, while others remained seated.

There was some reason to be disappointed.

The Finnish soprano is a beautiful singer, and her elegant bearing, textual sensitivity and sophisticated artistry proved admirable in this exposed work. Yet for all her achievement, she wasn’t born to sing these songs. Her voice does not command the plumminess of sound they require, and her first octave (from middle C upward) lacks both strength and color.

At her recital last Sunday night, with just piano accompaniment to contend with, she more than held her own. But with the orchestra behind her, her sound was thin and monochromatic.


Los Angeles Philharmonic

Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.


When: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

Price: $14-$82

Contact: (323) 850-2000