Music Review: Conductor ENLUIS MONTES OLIVAR & Pianist LUKÁŠ VONDRÁČEK (Los Angeles Philharmonic; Tchaikovsky & Rachmaninoff at The Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on July 23, 2021

in Concerts / Events,Music,Theater-Los Angeles


While it’s fair to say that last night’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl saw Venezuelan conductor (and Gustavo Dudamel fellow) Enluis Montes Olivar in virtuosic splendor, it’s also fair to say that the three works came off more like a technical achievement than an emotional marvel. Which isn’t to say the rather well-attended event for a Tuesday night classical program didn’t hold our attention. The Los Angeles Philharmonic pulled out all the big-gunned Principal Players for an audience favorite, Rachmaninoff’s soul-stirring Second Concerto; one of the best-known works from the lesser-known (at least in the States) Venezuelan composer Evencio Castellanos’s Santa Cruz de Pacairigua; and Tchaikovsky’s youthful Symphony No.2 in C minor, nicknamed Little Russian for its use of themes from the folk music of Ukraine. The result was a master class in musicianship.

Evencio Castellanos belonged to the generation of Venezuelan composers who established a new nationalistic style in the first half of the 20th century. The 17-minute Santa Cruz de Pacairigua (1954) pays homage to the construction of a church in Guatire, near Caracas, which explains the quoting of a Venezuelan medieval carol. Clearly, Castellanos saw this as more than a somber event: the piece is awash in rambunctious, rollicking dance rhythms and bouncy, elated melodies. If you’ve never heard it before, yet it sounds almost familiar, Castellanos’s work nearly references Moncayo, Villa-Lobos, and Ginastera. The rhythmic urgency was especially notable in Tyler Stell’s timpani and Matthew Howard’s percussion. A wonderful touch is the use of celesta, played here by Joanne Pearce Martin. Yes, the form is somewhat all over the map, but the music is brilliant when swift and fortissimo, melodiously tuneful in more peaceful areas.

Lukáš Vondráček

Born in Opava, Czech Republic in 1986, Lukáš Vondráček’s parents, both professional pianists, recognized his skills before he was three. His meteoric rise was no doubt due to a furiously exact technique. For the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 in C minor, the strength and agility of his fingers are a marvel, and he dexterously handled the stretching and shaping required to handle those huge chords. Missing for me was the emotionality behind the aching, immediately accessible melodies. Interestingly, the small-framed Olivar again highlighted individual players, and the reading was drier than the usual lushly romantic interpretation — the orchestra was as much a star as the pianist.

The first presentation of Little Russian at a private gathering in 1872 was a success for Tchaikovsky. Still, seven years later during a stay in Rome, Tchaikovsky reworked the symphony radically. His shortest symphony — about 32 minutes — is not performed often, which is a shame, as it’s a wonderful study of a blossoming symphonist. Notable for its use of Russian folk melodies, The Second may be less well known than his last three, but it is rife with fanciful and gloriously memorable melodies. Olivar pulled out the high Romantic passion while keeping the piece grounded. A most lovely way to end such a pleasant concert.

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