Composers of serious concert music who also write for film and television are usually greeted with skepticism, much like novelists who write screenplays. Benjamin Wallfisch is a 33-year-old English composer and conductor who is credited with orchestrating and conducting Dario Marianelli’s 2008 Oscar-winning score for “Atonement.” Since then, Wallfisch’s own career as a movie composer has taken off.
But Wallfisch, who conducted the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Sunday at UCLA’s Royce Hall in the premiere of his Violin Concerto (along with works by Elgar and Beethoven), showed that he knows the difference between the two genres. His concerto took some chances dynamically and rhythmically and was characterized by a resourcefulness that didn’t need to rely on a catchy tune.
The concerto was commissioned for Tereza Stanislav, LACO’s assistant concertmaster, to honor her 10th anniversary with the orchestra. She gave a magisterial rendition, finding in Wallfisch’s darkish 25-minute score a vehicle to explore the violin’s expressive capabilities at high and low extremes.
Stanislav conveyed the hushed intensity of the central slow movement, and then held the audience rapt during a substantial and mostly very quiet cadenza, which led into an energetic, percussive Finale.
Wallfisch, a pianist who comes from a family of noted string players, including his cellist father, Raphael, writes idiomatically for the violin. He also demonstrated a feel for subtle orchestral textures and colors. As a conductor, he had the good fortune to be leading a first-rate ensemble of players, who performed superbly.
After intermission, Wallfisch led the orchestra in a mostly captivating account of Beethoven’s youthful Second Symphony. The outer movements were full of sharp dynamic contrasts, but more variety in the Larghetto would have been welcome.
Wallfisch was least effective in Elgar’s “Introduction and Allegro for Strings,” which he pulled about in a reading too slow and loving. The orchestra’s rich string tone saved it.