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Concerto measures violinist’s growth

Special to The Times

All violinists inevitably wonder how to make the Beethoven Concerto their own. Fritz Kreisler’s was soupy, Isaac Stern’s sweet, and Jascha Heifetz’s fleet and steely.

On Saturday at Glendale’s Alex Theatre, Angelenos enjoyed the efforts of a new challenger: the impetuous Norwegian Henning Kraggerud, who debuted with conductor Jeffrey Kahane at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s opening night concert.

A boyish mug and Jim Morrison mop rule this rising soloist’s look, which only serves to emphasize his smooth, clear and persuasive sound. In contrast to other young talents, Kraggerud sports brave, risky fingerings. One can get lost in his rebellious and convincing, Paganini-esque detours.

Yet on Saturday the soloist’s musical maturity was seriously measured too. Though he played phenomenally well, despite some bad intonations, he didn’t so much make a case for the intrinsic virtues of the Beethoven Concerto as he proved and celebrated its ability to X-ray one’s spirit.

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With brisk, bendy tempos, capricious scale passages, and two extra-long-winded cadenzas, Kraggerud stated that it’s impossible to hide in the work’s revealing scales.

And although Beethoven nearly requires such attitude, Kraggerud’s was so all-consuming that it ultimately and detrimentally contended with the work’s formal purity.

Luckily the evening began with two highlights: a powerfully dramatic reading of Mendelssohn’s stormy “Hebrides Overture,” juiced with plenty of cross-stage counterpoint, and the complete 1912 score to Ravel’s beloved “Mother Goose” ballet, which is usually played as a pared-down suite.

A musical evocation of Charles Perrault’s “Stories and Tales of Olden Times, With Morals,” which introduced us to “Sleeping Beauty” and “Tom Thumb,” the Ravel work displayed just how well Kahane has tuned up his band.

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Like many pianists turned maestros, Kahane still flaunts a case of ACS (Aristocratic Conductors’ Syndrome); he likes, for instance, to posture his left hand on his hip while dictating, Napoleon-style, broad, decisive motions with his right. He could lighten up a bit, letting his musicians collaborate more mano a mano.

But the mark of a conductor, as long as one runs the show, is what he can get out of his musicians. Ravel, for instance, requires a light, songful wit, and accordingly Kahane’s violins sang sweetly while sprightly bird-calls and plucky Javanese gamelan sounds pinged with precision.

In the end, lines narrative and musical combined for a seamless, poetic look at impressionistic children’s tunes written to seduce even the most hard-boiled adult. It was a compelling start to a season music fans will want to watch.


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