Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Let's Get Serious

August 25, 2010

Sarah Chang and Leonard Slatkin with members of the L.A. Philharmonic. Photo: mine 2010

Tuesday brought a whole evening’s worth of orchestral music from Dimitri Shostakovich, which was sufficient reason to brave the numerous obstacles to enjoying music at the Hollywood Bowl. Our beloved Los Angeles Philharmonic was paired up with two names that don’t immediately leap to mind when you think of Shostakovich - violinist Sarah Chang and conductor for the evening, Leonard Slatkin. (Though to be fair, both have recorded the major works on Tuesday’s program in their substantial catalogs and are not at all strangers to Shotakovich's works.) To start was one of those brief reminders that for all of the heavy baggage associated with Shotakovich, he composed more than his fair share of easy-access film and theater music. Tahiti Trot was written on a dare to demonstrate the composer could set Vincent Youmans’ “Tea for Two” from the musical No, No Nanette in under an hour. He did and these few minutes proved a light-hearted kick-off to some much more serious business at hand.

Chang arrived for the First Violin Concerto last heard quite spectacularly with the L.A. Phil, if my recollection is right, in February 2008 with soloist Vadim Repin under James Conlon. Chang has a tendency towards physical histrionics like stomping that I’ve noticed in prior outings here. And even though details may have been blunted by my distance from the stage, they seemed blissfully absent on Tuesday. Chang is no slouch and readily dispatched the requisite furious finger-work, but I found the opening lament of the Nocturne a little dry and uninvolved even if her playing lacked any hesitation. As things got more fast and furious, she seemed to rise to the occasion with a little more abandon and a little less control that brought things around with a little more excitement. The only other issue was the typical loss of much of the gorgeous bass sound that permeates the concerto in the dead Bowl acoustics.

This thinning of the bass sound also plagued the performance of the Symphony No. 5 that followed the intermission. Slatkin knows his way around 20th-century music and has been giving solid performances everywhere following the now largely forgotten scandale of last season’s La Traviata debacle at the Met Opera. Here he was as assured as he was this summer in Santa Fe. Slatkin and the orchestra compensated as much as possible for the muffled bass by making the most of the work’s many other charms. Things did go a little awry in the Largo, with an overly muddy sound. But it was an enjoyable performance that showed off the brass nicely and could be fleet when it needed to. No, not shabby at all for a Tuesday at the Hollywood Bowl.


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