Post image for Los Angeles Music Review: BEETHOVEN’S NINTH & COPLAND’S “FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN” & “LINCOLN PORTRAIT” (Gustavo Dudamel, LA Phil)

by Tony Frankel on July 19, 2017

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Of all the actors who have embodied the voice of Abraham Lincoln, the one that sticks out for me is Royal Dano, who Walt Disney personally selected as Lincoln’s voice in Disneyland’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction; not only did Dano resemble the 16th POTUS, but Disney felt the actor came closest to the historical descriptions of Lincoln’s voice.

That twangy resonance was nowhere to be found when the L.A. Dodgers’ erstwhile announcer Vin Scully took up the role for Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, which ended the first half of LA Phil’s program at the Hollywood Bowl last night. Yet casting the 89-year-old L.A. icon was something of a coup—this folksy, soothing, sweet-sounding, sonorous storyteller is one of the most beloved broadcasters in history, and honoring him was akin to honoring the most beloved President in history. Unlike some over-the-top readings (a report of staginess in an early performance by actor Will Geer led the composer to emphasize naturalness over histrionics), Scully was confident, relaxed, and matched Copland’s tone: Scully was pure inspiring, reassuring, patriotic Americanism. Considering that this was the second performance (the first was last Thursday), it was an impressive turnout, approximately 75% full, and based on the ovation, many were there to thank Scully for his years of service.

Upon the U.S.’s entrance into World War II, conductor Andre Kostelanetz ideated a project “to mirror the magnificent spirit of our country” and commissioned Copland to write a portrait of a great American figures. Copland chose Lincoln under the condition that he could use a narrator. The idea was, in Copland’s words, “a portrait in which the sitter himself might speak.” Scully actually stood for Gustavo Dudamel’s soul-stirring rendition. The piece is about 15 minutes long in three continuous sections: The first two parts, purely orchestral, suggest something of the mystery of Lincoln and his lively times. The final section alone had Scully reading from memory Lincoln’s letters and speeches (Copland chose the words from the famous 1916 Abraham Lincoln: A Biography by Lord Godfrey Charnwood). Since the accompaniment here was intended less as a patriotic gesture than “a simple but impressive frame,” Dudamel wisely kept his players in that vein, with Marcel Sobol’s horn and Thomas Hooten’s trumpet creating a sweet melancholic tone.

A perfect companion piece opened the program: It was also written in 1942 by Copland, and inspired by a politician: Vice President Henry A. Wallace, whose then recent speech proclaimed the dawning of the “Century of the Common Man.” Now one of the better-known fanfares, the rousing brass section was absolutely phenomenal, their command of pitch incredible. And Tyler Stell’s booming timpani resounded triumphantly because Dudamel kept the tempo luscious and deliberate.

The very short first half was completely understandable given the length of Beethoven’s Ninth, the monster symphony that never fails to impress. I actually prefer it in a hall, where noisy crickets, drunk neighbors, and helicopters don’t compete with the deeper beauties of the third movement (really, the crickets around us were so loud that patrons were moving items to silence them), but Dudamel is a treasure, displaying a strong sense of musical continuity, confidently and vigorously moving Beethoven’s drama forward with fierce, pile-driving joy (Joseph Pereira’s timpani and Whitney Crockett’s bassoon followed suit): Dudamel held the reins tightly in the first movement, loosening up to convey the buoyant, playful energy of the second movement scherzo; and offered lovingly shaped phrases in the third (maybe that’s why the crickets were so ecstatic).

The final movement with its great “Ode to Joy” sung by chorus and soloists turned into a whirling celebration that caught me up completely. The Los Angeles Master Chorale, solidly prepared by Grant Gershon and assistant conductor Jenny Wong, soared past the challenges of Beethoven’s writing to deliver with the orchestra a ringing affirmation of the human spirit (members of LAMC could be seen on the video screens positively beaming with pride). The soloists were far and away some of the best I’ve ever heard for the Ninth, and yet one stood out: No bass soloist has sounded more robust, commanding, authoritative, strapping, weighty and dynamic than Ryan Speedo Green (pictured below). His performance was one for the record books. Even the crickets stopped to listen.

Vin Scully photographs taken by Craig Matthews at the Hollywood Bowl,
provided courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9
COPLAND: Fanfare for the Common ManLincoln Portrait
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
The Hollywood Bowl
played July 13 & 18, 2017
for more events, visit Hollywood Bowl

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