Lionel Bringuier reinvigorated the Los Angeles Philharmonic's approach to mainstream Romantic repertoire by Brahms and Dvořák with what might be called Gallic flair (since he hails from Nice on the French Riviera) and energy. In the concerto part of the program the Niçois was joined by Québécois Martin Chalifour in the Bruch Violin Concerto to complete the evening's sweep. The results were magnifique!

Lionel Bringuier © Paolo Dutto
Lionel Bringuier
© Paolo Dutto

Bringuier gave immediate notice with Brahms' Tragic Overture that this was not going to be some mere heavy-handed cruise down the Rhine. Instead, from the muffled opening to the initial full-out orchestral strike, it was lyrical, lithe and even heart-pounding at times, but in an exhilarating, even positive, way. The clarity and precision of the playing produced its own momentum. At the crucial Molto più moderato near the end, the heavenly triplets in the strings seemed to float away into the Disney Hall ether. Everything was done with a sense of timing so superb and yet so plastic and free that, given the few rehearsals they had this week, it must have been that they were working collaboratively.

Just as clearly Martin Chalifour's performance of Bruch's Violin Concerto no. 1 in G minor was a three-way love affair for Bringuier and the orchestra who encouraged him to give their fearless leader full sway to his elegant bow, impeccable intonation, generosity of phrase, and most of all his ability to communicate to the farthest reaches of the packed hall. He transformed the great striding theme of the Finale into something joyful, and when the concerto was over he was cheered like a hometown hero.

Bringuier and the Phil sealed the deal with a Dvořák Eighth Symphony rich with inner detail and yet quick to move and change direction and mood. For once you could hear that the great opening tune of was played by massed cellos, horns, clarinets and bassoons; and the way they set up Denis Bouriakov's flute it really seemed as if his song was coming out of a magical clearing in the forest. If Bringuier at times proceeded so fast that there was no room to breathe, and seemed to missed the forest for the trees, it didn't phase the orchestra one bit. Overall, the Dvořák was as if the Philharmonic had been suddenly released from its old prison days. 

The violas nailed their trills underneath one of Bouriakov's solo riffs; bassoonist Whitney Crockett expressed Dvořák's ending sigh as if it were a lament. Bing Wang, sitting in for Chalifour, was sublime in her solo in the Adagio, softening the treacherous double stops into a soothing lullaby. There was lot of great playing from the clarinets in the Allegretto grazioso, more sophisticated than rustic, and the violins' portamento was indecently tactile. 

The final note to the evening was sounded by what seemed like hundreds of high school students filling most of the Orchestra View seats directly facing the conductor. They made it clear that they liked what they saw and loved what they heard; they cheered as much as they were able between each movement. They hung over the fronts of their seats waiting for each new movement to begin; they were silent, immovable once the music started. When the music stopped invariably they exploded with joy. 

If I were Lionel Bringuier and LA Phil, I'd sure want more of those kids.