Los Angeles Philharmonic / Gustavo Dudamel - Barbican, 27 January 2011
The first thing that strikes you about the LA Philharmonic is how un-American they sound. We associate US visitors with breathtaking technical precision and an air of cool detachment, yet the Californians dug in with the fire and passion of a native orchestra, rough edges and all. It's a sound they developed way before the arrival of Dudamel, though he's clearly a good fit.
With only two concerts in their UK visit, it was a pity they decided to devote their half of this one to music as banal and inconsequential as John Adams' Slonimsky’s Earbox and Leonard Bernstein's First, 'Jeremiah', Symphony. The Adams is perhaps understandable as the composer holds a sinecure with the orchestra, but the splashy, immature Bernstein is hardly the greatest advertisement for Bernstein himself or American music in general. Either might work well as part of a local season, but tours are like job interviews - you've got to give your best shot, because there's no opportunity to make good later. That said, both works were played cleanly and enthusiastically, with mezzo Kelley O’Connor proving an admirable soloist in the Bernstein.
Enthusiasm was the best thing going for their rudderless reading of Beethoven's Seventh too. Rhythm was precisely articulated, but I was disappointed at how little detail Dudamel brought out, the lack of contrast or dynamic variation, the unwillingness to hold a pause. With the twentieth century masters like Stravinsky and Shostakovich, Dudamel rarely fails to impress, but he has some way to go with The Daddy.
It was enough for his many fans in the audience though. The ovating granny in front of me could barely stay in her seat from the moment he walked on stage, and she was up on her feet as soon as he'd finished. With better programming choices I might just have joined her.