Los Angeles Music Review: ROMANTIC FAVORITES (LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on September 11, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

A STUNNING TRIFONOV MAKES HIS HOLLYWOOD BOWL DEBUT

It was both fascinating and distracting to watch 22-year-old Daniil Trifonov, the current Big Thing of the piano world, perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (1897) at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday. Hunched over the keys and stroking Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of Philharmonic’s Romantic Favorites at the Hollywood Bowlthem with a fierce tenderness, he consistently appeared to be on the edge of orgasm. The thin Russian pursed his lips, scrunched his face, and closed his eyes tight as if he were reliving some gloriously bittersweet and lovely memory. Sometimes, his face appeared to be grimacing with passionate intent, a physical determination that caused his hair to be matted with sweat. This is where the giant screens at the Bowl may be a disadvantage: I actually had to wrest myself away from watching a drop of perspiration cling tenaciously to Trifonov’s nose so that I could actively listen to this boyish virtuoso.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of Philharmonic’s Romantic Favorites at the Hollywood BowlThe combination of possessed frenzy and ardent lovemaking on view belied his unswervingly amazing technique. Each note could be easily identified, yet they cascaded smoothly like a pulsating waterfall. The combination of strength and tenderness more than validated why Trifonov won the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition and the International Tchaikovsky Competition. His physical lurching could be identified in certain passages: At times, he was as moved by the sumptuous, romantic melodies as we were—taking his time and slowly building up steam; other times, it was almost as if he were urging the orchestra forward.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of Philharmonic’s Romantic Favorites at the Hollywood BowlThe handsome conductor, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, did a serviceable job, allowing Trifonov the spotlight, but a slight hesitancy made it seem as if he was intimidated by the proficient and extraordinary pianist. While it may be true that the Philharmonic didn’t pulsate as resoundingly as Trifonov, they never got in his way. But who could? When the Liszt-like master flashed on, flirted with and flew over the keyboard for a jaw-dropping encore of Stravinsky’s Firebird for Piano, even the mute musicians behind him were riveted. Nonetheless, individual soloists, such as clarinetist Michele Zukovsky, shined in what is one of Rachmaninoff’s most beloved works.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of Philharmonic’s Romantic Favorites at the Hollywood BowlAnother audience favorite opened the first act: Gershwin’s Cuban Overture (1932). With its contagious rumba rhythms, this magical piece calls to mind Gershwin’s previous symphonic efforts—that rare combination of jazz and concerto—but this tone poem contains bluesy strains and sounds like the best score that would come out of the magic years at MGM, yet far more sophisticated. Harth-Bedoya had full command of his players, and the percussion section had a field day playing Latin American instruments, including bongo, claves, gourd, and maracas.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of Philharmonic’s Romantic Favorites at the Hollywood BowlThe Cuban Overture had us swaying in our seats, but Gershwin’s other selection, Porgy and Bess: Symphonic Picture (1943), was tame and literally felt like a long overture from the work itself. It is true that the first recognizable melody, “Summertime,” is not heard until seven minutes into this synthesis of the cherished 1935 opera, but the arrangement by the brilliant Robert Russell Bennett doesn’t truly reinterpret the music. It ultimately sounds like a safe homage to his friend Gershwin, a “Greatest Hits” medley that needed to be brassier and jazzier. Certainly, it is an unchallenging piece for this orchestra, but it was still pleasing and allowed for some soulful, plaintive work from trumpeter James Wilt, and dexterous xylophone playing by Perry Dreiman.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of Philharmonic’s Romantic Favorites at the Hollywood BowlAlso highly agreeable and even more welcome was the West Coast premiere of Adam Schoenberg’s Bounce, which was commissioned by LA Phil. But it was also curious. Mr. Schoenberg’s work was immediately accessible and classically American, perfect for ballet with its pulsating repetitions that emulated industry and soaring themes that evoked cowboy hoedowns and Shaker hymns. Sound familiar? I’m not going to say that it was derivative of Aaron Copland, but had someone told me this concert was the result of an unearthed manuscript from his most productive and popular years (1935-1945), I would find that hard to refute. Bounce is a perfect title, as the 10-minute work is playful, chirpy and emotionally stirring; it makes sense that the work—co-commissioned by Aspen Music Festival where it had its World Premiere—was inspired by a man expecting his first child. Schoenberg (no relation to composer Arnold) has said that he sees it becoming a four-movement piece with choreography for child dancers, and he has more than whetted my appetite as he takes the next leap—or bounce.

photos of Daniil Trifonov from previous concerts

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Romantic Favorites
played the Hollywood Bowl on September 10, 2013
for more info on this and future events, visit LA Phil / Hollywood Bowl

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