John Axelrod

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21 Mar 2011
Axelrod's 1-2 Punch with Milan's LaVerdi

Axelrod's 1-2 Punch with Milan's LaVerdi


Those m4ther-F8cking la Verdi kids have done it again, guest conductor John Axelrod leading them to the light of romantic goodness. OC was in the house on Thursday's opening night of John Axelrod's latest series with Auditorium di Milano's L’Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi where Liszt and Strauss duked it out in tag-team fisticuffs under the warm glow of wood.

Opera Chic had also been there for Mahler's Ninth, which Axelrod saturated in a LSD-soaked haze. A moodily-earthbound, languid, cerebral first movement rallied into apocalyptic 2nd, 3rd, and 4th movements that were color-flooded and violently-expressive -- it happened a month ago an OC is still spooked. Despite momentarily losing sight of Mahlerian sustainability and momentum, it was jubilantly-bright -- an old tv set in your parent's basement playroom with the saturation turned up to full blast -- or a rainy Monday night on a quiet college campus with nothing but a fifth of jack and a sheet of LSD. So the anecdote goes. The fourth movement -- melancholy and pensive, rich and haunted -- shimmered and was terrifyingly-brilliant, a poem on death's ambiguous haunting shadows. First violinist Luca Santaniello brought moments of the sublime with his always delicate, attentive, and elegant playing.

This weekend, Strauss' Don Juan and Rosenkavalier Suite accompanied Liszt's Piano Concerto 1 and Totentanz in a well-rounded program. Maestro Axelrod made opening remarks in Italian, and dedicated the performance to Japan, followed by Italy's national anthem for the 150th anniversary of Italian unification.

Strauss' Don Juan is the late 19th century tone poem about the tortured legend who adores and worships all things ladylike, but eventually succumbs to pessimism. It was an ambitious read from Axelrod, full of the hero's restlessness where brilliant horns allowed the lushness of Strauss' harmonies to conquer, but in the end, the piece failed to converge in the composer's brilliant blend of melody and discord.

Benedetto Lupo, pianist for the series, banged out a practised, well-controlled Liszt Piano concert No. 1. and Totentanz. He rose to Liszt's Weimar years in a performance that strayed from the tempting hues of flamboyance and instead came off with delicious swagger. Bright and expressive, Lupo's tone rang with a pensive weight and synchronization. Gorgeously effective, he was met with loads of cheers for his intelligent reading.

Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier Suite finished the program, an intensely colorfully piece full of swing, flavor, and the musty shadows of Austria's traditional past. We heard glowing, incandescent string work where delicate shimmering gave way to the rapture of horns, but the magic didn't fully work its spell. We live for effervescent moments in the score, which Axelrod provided, but the color was too bright to allow the work to fully twinkle. Still, Axelrod gets Vienna's live-out-loud shades and worked his magic -- especially thrilling in his evocative Mahler's Ninth.

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