Both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Santa Barbara’s Community Arts Music Association (CAMA) are in their 96th season; few cities can claim this kind of uninterrupted alliance with such an important and consistently interesting symphony orchestra. For a lesser organization, the news that the originally scheduled conductor, Vasily Petrenko, would not be able to perform due to a personal emergency might set in motion something safe and standard. The LA Phil is not that kind of group, and, in any event, substitute maestro Emmanuel Villaume, music director of the Dallas Opera, would not have encouraged it. What we got bore something like the relation of Villaume’s blue suit to the more traditional conductor’s tuxedo—a refreshing and immediate performance that was entirely correct but not overly formal.
Anton Webern’s Im Sommerwind begins with gentle rising chords and faun-like themes in the winds, but it’s not long before the listener realizes that this is not going to be a familiar review of generic conventions. Written in the last few weeks before Webern met Arnold Schonberg, the mentor of his mature period, the piece is nevertheless full of intriguing hints of the music to come.
Is there a better piano concerto than Beethoven’s No. 3 in C Minor? Lise de la Salle waited patiently through the long orchestral opening, and then unleashed the dramatic runs that distinguish this at times Mozartean work from its influences and stamp it with the master’s signature big statements. De la Salle excelled at finding and clarifying the idiosyncrasies and the humor in the piece. Her ability to lend lightness and precision to the unexpected resolutions in the Rondo: Allegro final movement allowed the emphatic sections to land more effectively.
The two Strauss pieces in the second half of the concert, Don Juan, Op. 20 and Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28, are perhaps more familiar than the planned Strauss work, Ein Heldenleben, but the impact of hearing this fabulous orchestra play them rendered the music newly endless to contemplation.