There’s something delicious about easing out of the warmth of a late Sunday afternoon into an orchestral concert at the Granada. As the sun outside sets, the audience within enjoys a musical feast. For this visit of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the opening was the musical equivalent of comfort food: Felix Mendelssohn’s overture The Hebrides, Op. 26 (“Fingal’s Cave”). The hum of massed strings set the ears buzzing, and, in the next offering, Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201, the reduced orchestra gave full vent to its string section, which is second to none. The piece is filled with the drama of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang influence, but beneath this surface lurks the radiant heart of Mozart, which clearly wins out in the end.
After the intermission, soloist Gautier Capuçon joined the full orchestra for the Don Quixote, Op. 35 of Richard Strauss. It’s a big, burly piece of post-symphonic writing that’s intended as program music and is based quite specifically on nearly a dozen episodes from Cervantes’s novel, but Strauss’s “Variations” also succeed as remarkably sophisticated compositions and bold sonic experiments quite apart from any narrative effect.
What’s most interesting is the tension between the story and the music. Yes, it is possible to identify the moment when Don Quixote falls from his horse, and you can hear the sheep in the meadow bleating, but aren’t the gorgeous textures and searing dissonance wonderfully distracting, as well? Cellist Capuçon took the role of Don Quixote, complete with tilting at windmills to special charging music, and his playing evinced a steadfast belief in the Don’s impossible dream that held out to the bitter end. No modern composer was more suited to rendering the eclipse of the heroic ideal than the complex, divided Strauss, and no contemporary orchestra is doing a better job than the L.A. Phil at keeping such invaluable compositions alive.