It was Salonen?s farewell visit to Santa Barbara as the conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic; he has announced his resignation to concentrate on composing. He chose two works, Johannes Brahms? Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83, with friend and colleague Leif Ove Andsnes as soloist, and music from Gotterdammerung by Richard Wagner, always a guilty pleasure. Australian soprano Lisa Gasteen was the soloist in the latter, excelling in Brunnhilde?s immolation from Gotterdamerung.
Salonen has a spirited conducting style, along with a wonderful rapport with his orchestra. It is hard to imagine him sequestered, composing away and not lifting a baton.
The philharmonic is his baby, and sounded completely so in the Brahms, ending the fourth and final movement, allegretto grazioso, with a thunderous finality. Andsnes was equally commanding in his playing of the Brahms, which the composer notoriously referred to as his ?tiny, tiny little concerto.? It is enormous, powerful and demanding of the soloist and the audience. And, of course, it repays this demand handsomely.
Salonen?s conducting of the Wagner was perhaps a bit more restrained, in recognition of Gasteen?s mastery of Brunnhilde?s death music from Wagner?s masterpiece.
It is a genuine pleasure to report that the acoustics of the Granada are as advertised, clear and refined, brilliant but not too much so. A patron seated behind me said after the Brahms, ?I heard every note, every single note.?
Salonen is in his 16th season as conductor of the L.A. orchestra, and after the 2008-09 season will hand over the baton to 27-year-old Gustavo Dudamel, a Venezuelan youngster who already has received bravos in Santa Barbara as a visiting maestro.
Pianist Andsnes has a full schedule of concertizing with the world?s major orchestras, but also spends time in his native Norway playing chamber music. He has a lengthy discography, as well as a number of awards to his name. He received his native Norway?s signal honor, named Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav. He also has been honored with the Royal Philharmonic Society?s Instrumentalist Award, the Gilmore Artist Award and three Grammies.
The concert was brought to the Granada courtesy of the Community Arts Music Association. The music community is, as always, greatly indebted.