Music Review: AUGUSTIN HADELICH & STÉPHANE DENÈVE (LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on July 26, 2018

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


It’s always fascinating to come for a headliner and be completely bowled over by another part of the program. The draw was Augustin Hadelich, one of the world’s greatest violinists, performing Sibelius’s only Violin Concerto at the Hollywood Bowl. I have seen the Juilliard-trained Hadelich on five occasions, and each time it is a revelation. Grounded yet ethereal, intense yet sunny, jocular yet serious, the 34-year-old played his 1723 Ex-Kiesewetter Stradivarius, transforming the Sibelius from a violinist’s showcase into an intimate and beautiful experience. French conductor Stéphane Denève, however, gave an accompaniment with the LA Phil that had too little muscle and drama to fill the Bowl. (Opening the program, Sibelius’s gorgeous Valse Triste, certainly one of the most memorable and popular of the Finnish composer’s incidental works, was also treated with kid gloves as the whispered playing nearly became imperceptible in its gentleness.)

Extraordinarily in sync with the Italian-born violinist (a triumph considering all of the piece’s many time changes), the conductor opted for a mostly gentle, smooth, lyrical, and intensely soft interpretation, making the concerto all about Hadelich. That’s a valid interpretation given the soloist’s superior technique of crystal clear top notes and precise, incredibly strong trills. His soulful interpretation rendered the Sibelius so quiet, emotional, and sensitive that it actually roused the spirit. Indeed, the audience burst into sustained applause after the first movement (Allegro moderato) and didn’t stop. Without ego, Hadelich continually bowed his head in appreciation over and over, joined by Denève, who also bowed graciously to the audience.

He then played the Paganini Caprice No.21 in A Major (Amoroso – Presto) with diplomacy, assurance, and a sense that this popular encore piece isn’t really difficult given his intimidating skill. He captured the copious effects, adding playfulness to the ostensibly sentimental theme. Even when he used a whirlwind tempo, his notes were warm and clearly articulated.

Denève’s technique may have lost the opportunity to completely fill the amphitheater with the Sibelius, but after intermission the medium-sized but mighty audience was treated to renditions of Ravel that erased any previous hearings.

Setting the brain awash with images is Maurice Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911), a suite of eight waltzes both impressionistic and modern written as an homage to Franz Schubert. Just after the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Denève told us that he planned to segue from these into the ever-popular La valse, also by Ravel, without a break, which meant no applause between movements (thank God!); the patrons remembered his speech and were as still as the balmy night air.

Denève, whose Gene Wilder-esque ringlets of hair defied gravity, intensified the work’s colors, highlighted by the expressiveness of Cathy Karoly’s flute during the “Assez lent,” with its Debussy-like symbolism, while oboist Anne Gabriele turned the almost surreptitious “Modéré” into a countryside fling. The conductor’s temperament — a controlled urgency –was a perfect fit for his countryman’s compositions. It was simply a treat just to watch the players and hear their astounding synchronicity in the contemplative La valse. Denève built up the work appropriately, giving the 1913 work of swirling waltzes not just power, vigor, and rapture, but an incredibly stimulating volume that snugly fit the Bowl. It was by turns breezy, unruffled, meticulous, lush, sensitive and sensual.

The closing piece to this program which played last Tuesday was Boléro, and this was no mere interpretation, it was a revelation, aided by the improved sound system at the Bowl and the fact that the LA Phil has amassed some of the finest principals in the world. Since the world-famous melody of Boléro has been featured in popular music, motion pictures and even video games, one can safely assume this is Ravel’s most successful work.

So often, this tone poem has conductors relying on the methodical construction of the piece, but here the soulful repetition of two simple, and beautiful, melodic figures by the sterling soloists made the slow crescendo to a dense tapestry of sound almost spiritual. Nearly every instrument in the orchestra has a turn at playing the theme, so it was a spectacular showcase for, among others, Burt Hara on clarinet and Shawn Mouser on bassoon. Jaclyn Rainey’s horn mixed beautifully with Mark Robson’s celesta, and Matt Howard’s snare drums maintained an even pace, far from the rushing acceleration often experienced with inferior performances. (And lest I forget, Maria Casale’s harp playing was powerful and full of emotion all night.) Truly the best Boléro I have ever heard live.

photos courtesy of LA Phil

Sibelius & Ravel
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Stéphane Denève, conductor
Augustin Hadelich, violinist
The Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave.
played Tuesday July 24, 2018
for more events, call 323.850.2000 or visit The Hollywood Bowl

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