By John Farrell
Concert names have become the in thing across the land, and at the Long Beach Symphony, perhaps for marketing reasons, they are as exciting as anywhere else. That is, if you prefer your music with a seductive title.
The most recent LBSO concert, Saturday night at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach, was subtitled
“The Seductress, the Prince and the Princess,” a nod to the “Carmen” Suite that took up much of the second half of the mostly but hardly all-Russian program, no doubt. A better title, if one was necessary at all, would have been “Tchaikovsky's violin concerto and a little more,” for it was the Tchaikovsky, in the more than capable hands of soloist Ilya Kaler, that was the centerpiece and even, if we must use French, the raison d'etre of the whole and often glorious concert, the fourth in what is Maestro Enrique Arturo Diemecke's tenth season with the symphony.
Speaking of titles, this entire season of concerts has been promulgated under the heading “From Russia with Love,” without even a nod of thanks to Ian Fleming. Most of the works this season are Russian (though “Carmen” is clearly not) and on this evening the music began with Glinka's lively and often-heard overture to “Russlan and Ludmilla.” Diemecke led at a breakneck pace, perhaps even a little too fast for his orchestra, but it was a cheerful and lively reading, with only one question: if Glinka wrote this often played and exciting work, why do we never hear of anything else from the first Russian nationalist composer? Just asking.
The Tchaikovsky in all its myriad glories took up the rest of the concert's first half, with Kaler and Diemecke, who have worked together for 20 years now, teaming up to make the work a true delight.
Kaler plays a Guarnerius violin and, like many an ancient instruments, it has a voice all its own. The Tchaikovsky is as well known as any violin concerto, and is usually played by an instrument of surpassing lightness of tone. Kaler's instrument sounded a bit like it had just a touch of gravel in it, if that were possible, throatier and richer than other fiddles, fighting a bit against the constraints of Tchaikovsky's music. Kaler had every trick in his hands, from double stops to lightning changes from bowed passages to quick pizzicato and back, all without seeing any effort at all on his part. There were moments when his instruments voice was overpowered by the orchestra, but they were brief, and his passion and depth of feeling kept pace with all the technical brilliance. Diemecke was nearly always in command of his forces and the works lyric and dramatic qualities were well-balanced. It was brilliant, but not just brilliant: technique was celebrated but not at the expense of musicality. The audience gave Kaler three standing ovations: Diemecke has won them over to serious and lengthy pieces.
The “Carmen,” in the transcription by Hoffman (and not the modern Russian Rodion Shchedrin) was bright, filled with plenty of energy and plenty of percussion. Diemecke dance his way though it with a deft hand that reminded everyone that he is also an opera conductor of note. The final work on the program, the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's opera “Prince Igor” were even more exciting, with Diemecke emphasizing the bass drum with his foot and dancing his way to the powerful and dramatic ending.
Next year's concert schedule was announced that night to the orchestra-goers (it had been released a few days earlier) and has, yes, another name: “Vienna Nights,” a nod to the city where much of classical music was developed (though London, Rome, Leipzig and a few other towns deserve notice.) The programs include music by Beethoven, Schoenberg, Lehar and Johann Strauss, Jr. They also include the West Coast premier of Diemecke's Marimba Concerto and music by Brahms and Mendelssohn. And, no doubt to prove how accurate these title are, the first thing on the first performance next October 1 is Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. We can't forget Russia quite that fast.