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Marriner Masters Romanticism at Royce

04.28.08
Academy of St Martin in the Fields
The Beverly Hills Outlook

With a commanding presence, Sir Neville Marriner led St. Martin in the Fields through the Romantic lexicon at Royce Hall on March 29th when UCLAlive! Presented the ensemble as part of its rich season.

Before a packed to the rafters Hall, Marriner reminded us just what great conducting is: accomplishing much with little movement, his every gesture had meaning. His work this night was precise, confident and authoritative.

The concert began in the High Romantic, with Mendelssohn's atmospheric Hebrides Overture, Opus 26 ("Fingal's Cave"). This is a mysterious composition that seems to come out of nowhere, and, in Marriner's hands, it was as if the listener had stepped onto a wheel already in circular motion. Marriner's interpretation was restrained, yet the score all but throbbed. With strings shimmering, it was sweet, yet brooding. Most notable was how the conductor's version of it clearly revealed the composer echoing Schubert, yet foretelling Tchaikovsky. This version was almost magically definitive, while musically reaching out beyond itself.

Next, the conductor took the ensemble back to the Classical Mozart, in that composer's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K491, a piece, which nonetheless  prefigures Romanticism. Accordingly, the Allegro opens with tension and drama, and the concerto concludes with an Allegretto imbued in encroaching darkness mocked by playful winds. Only its centerpiece, the Larghetto, is strictly Classical in balance.

This Concerto was the first showpiece of the evening for piano soloist Yuja Wang, who here was on her good behavior; despite an outburst of pure Romanticism, the approach was very logical and dispassionate, very feminine, modest, and perfectly in place. Her interpretation on the Allegro was gentle; the Larghetto was pensive, yet pure. Cascading over the keyboard ambidextrously in the Allegretto, she was guided by the ensemble's exquisite support.

After intermission, and having changed from a blue gown into a red one, Wang was unleashed and her interpretation of Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Opus 25, was one of force and passion. Her work on this concerto was excitable, yet turned transparent and quiet in the Andante. Skipping over the keys in a heart pounding Presto - Molto Allegro vivace, she was insistent, yet fluid, and touched her instrument with a certain unexpected elegance.

The concert concluded back in the High Romantic where it began, with Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 in A major, Opus 90 ("The Italian"). Marriner attacked the score with a sweeping sense of excitement that was, at times, giddy and light hearted. The Andante con moto was moody and on edge, while its very curious Con moto moderato opened luxurious, but became quasi-militaristic, underlining the heroic nature of the composition. It ended with a very manic Saltarello: Presto.

As an encore, Marriner led us into the late Romanticism of Tchaikovsky, which was desolate and sad. Thus, in a scant 2-½ hours of listening, the audience had traversed the history of a musical movement. Not only had Marriner given us a masterful example of the art of conducting, but he had educated his audience as well in the process.