Music Review: BEETHOVEN/SCHUMANN (Marta Gardolińska and Hélène Grimaud with the LA Phil at The Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on September 10, 2021

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


The highly accessible and gloriously melodic Piano Concerto by Robert Schumann was one of my very first intros to classical music  (the Romantic period to be precise) as a youngster. I became completely immersed and addicted — memorizing every phrase, tempo shift and nuance. It remains a favorite to this day, decades later. I readily admit it’s tough to be objective, even as a critic, since we’re really speaking of my “first love” for this piece: Van Cliburn’s 1960 performance on LP had a profound affect on me. Last night at The Hollywood Bowl, the stunningly attractive pianist Hélène Grimaud, who has spent her career rethinking classics and creating new phrasings, offered a technically proficient interpretation with precise fingering that the not so well-attended audience adored.

Her performance with the LA Philharmonic under the baton of Marta Gardolińska was no doubt pleasing. Artistically, she is certainly playing the notes well; but I didn’t experience much more meaning and emotion, which may be due to the sheer size of the Bowl. Also, there’s a consistent sense of urgency and forward motion which isn’t always necessary (the finale is attacked with the same vigor and speed as the first movement). This makes for a lack of variety, but frankly, it hardly matters when the piano playing is this dazzling. This concerto is known for equal weight and invention with a skillful, colorful and independent orchestral treatment. Gardolińska, in her first Bowl appearance, managed her players with utmost confidence and impulse. (Can you imagine Mendelssohn leading the orchestra in one of the concerto’s first performances with Clara Schumann as the pianist?!)

What did blow us away was Gardolińska’s crisp, delightful, exhilarating take on Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. I’ve heard and own several versions, but this dynamic performance was so incredibly well done that it put the piece into a whole new arena. The audience sat amazingly still and did nothing but listen as the sound gradually overwhelmed us. Now I understand why Wagner described the Seventh as “the apotheosis of dance.” The first movement was so exciting that the crowd cheered in approval immediately after. All the movements were well done with clarity and light; the fourth was nine minutes of nonstop energy. I heard instrumental lines and countermelodies that I knew were there but now appreciate them more. And my favorite: the tempos were a bit faster than usual, proving that the world is waking up to the fact that most people play Beethoven far too slowly.

The evening opened with Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz’s Overture, which I believe isn’t an overture to anything; it is, however, one of her first orchestral pieces. The prolific violinist wrote it in 1943 and certainly gives the string section a workout. I loved its triumphant start that led to a pastoral introspection and then a blazing, swirling gale and thrilling dance-like march to the finish. The 6-minute white-knuckle work is a perfect introduction to the woman who wrote (among other compositions) seven violin concertos, five sonatas for violin with piano, seven string quartets, and two piano quintets. Her orchestral works include four numbered symphonies (1945, 1951, 1952, and 1953), and a Symphony for Strings (1946).


Tim Mellin September 11, 2021 at 6:23 am

Amplification at Hollywood Bowl is flat and tinny and sounds thusly amplified, only coming from the front of the stage area. It could be improved. I suggest adding some side speakers for balance and throttling back on the stage amplfiers. Then you’d get a balance and a little sense of the sound moving around you, which should be the whole point of a live shoiw.

Tony Frankel September 12, 2021 at 10:59 am

I agree, Tim. While they have been working on sound for decades (remember the giant stage balls?), it is time to implement your idea.

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