With the LSO, Harding and Ehnes Offer Thrills in Santa Barbara

15/07/2019

Tilson Thomas, Beethoven, Bartók: James Ehnes (violin), London Symphony Orchestra / Daniel Harding (conductor). Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara, California, 13.7.2019. (LV)

James Ehnes (c) Benjamin Ealovega

Michael Tilson Thomas Agnegram
Beethoven – Violin Concerto Op.61
Bartók – Concerto for Orchestra Sz.116

With an enthusiastic Daniel Harding on the podium, filling in for Michael Tilson Thomas taking the summer off for repairs, the London Symphony Orchestra began its concert with a tribute: Tilson Thomas’s Agnegram, written in 1998 to celebrate the 90th birthday of San Francisco Symphony patron Agnes Albert as ‘a portrait of her sophisticated and indefatigably enthusiastic spirit’. The massive ensemble, crammed onto the Granada Theatre stage, stunned the sold-out house with the conductor’s highly entertaining seven-minute-long overture. Laced with affection and secret jokes, bouts of Spike Jones percussion, circus music, and biblical Hollywood with undertones of Broadway shows, it only lacked memorable tunes. Nevertheless, the piece must have delighted the symphony’s community — not to mention, the honoree — and in the program notes, the composer’s detailed description of the themes made for a good read.

With James Ehnes as the soloist, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was very special. The initial four timpani strokes faded away almost to inaudibility, the woodwinds sang generously, and the crunch of the cellos and basses signaled their presence. As Harding’s moderate, flowing speed for the opening introduction laid out the vast expanse of orchestral tuttis, Ehnes emerged as if he had been playing along all the time. From then on his impeccable, flexible line was in charge, with the full cooperation of Harding and the orchestra — including its wonderful bassoonists, always key to a successful reading of the concerto.

Ehnes was magnificent throughout, an impassive figure on stage whose playing blazed like a laser beam, though brimming with compassion and heart. He judged the upward triplets towards the first movement’s peak climax so precisely that the end of his crescendo coincided perfectly with the end of the mounting orchestral excitement. Using the Kreisler cadenza, Ehnes was spontaneous to the point of almost forgetting it wasn’t by Beethoven, which is its only known complaint.

The Larghetto was exquisite, with the orchestra in gorgeous form, and Ehnes’s little passage against the strings’ pizzicatos was heavenly, floating along. But then he supercharged the cadenza with 20 seconds of pyrotechnical flourishes leading to an Olympian Allegro. As his encore, Ehnes played Ysaÿe’s third Sonata from the Op.27 set, a mark of his seriousness of purpose — and courage.

After intermission Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra started off with an Introduzione that could have been a misterioso, and the Granada Theatre space now seemed to be three-dimensional, as the spotlight shifted among instruments and instrument groups. The LSO ported its elegant, dynamic style to Bartók’s entirely different soundscape with crisp energy and physical beauty: eloquent flute, silken violins, a liquid oboe solo, and all in audiophile clarity, texture, and dynamic range. Speeds throughout felt slightly faster than they were; when the end arrived, the audience acknowledged with such thunderous applause that Harding led a lingering version of The Flying Theme from E.T. as an encore. The mere announcement of it had the audience cheering and sighing with delight.

Laurence Vittes

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! The Leeds Lieder Concert Series 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 18th Oxford Lieder Festival from 11 to 26 October 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anjali Dance Company Genius UK Tour 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Opera in 2019-2020 and New Artistic Director __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Opening of their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! HarrisonParrott celebrates 50 years at the Royal Festival Hall __________________________________
  • NEW! Highgate International Chamber Music Festival’s Beethoven 249 in November __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST JAMES LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! SOPRANO ANGELA GHEORGHIU IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! The Joys of the Marlboro Music Festival: Chamber Music’s Best-Kept Secret __________________________________
  • NOW REVIEWED! MATTHEW BOURNE’S ROMEO AND JULIET IN CINEMAS FROM 22 OCTOBER __________________________________
  • NEW! CELLIST JOHANNES MOSER IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • CHORUS MASTER STEPHEN DOUGHTY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • REVIEWED! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • MULTI-FACETED MUSICIAN JOY LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • ‘MUSICAL MAGIC’: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST HENNING KRAGGERUD __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month