The Los Angeles Philharmonic's encounter at the Hollywood Bowl Thursday went by the marketing-savvy, cheeky moniker "Czech Mates," but there was something wrong with the geo-cultural math.
From the Czech perspective, impressive guest conductor Jakub Hrusa, head of the Prague Philharmonia, offered insider's guidance on the musical matters of 19thcentury Czech composers Smetana — the tone poem "Sárka" — and Dvorák, his Sixth Symphony, to frame the concert.
Really, though, the heart and meat of the program arrived in the middle, as dazzling-with-subtlety Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski and the orchestra gave a strong, persuasive account of 20th century Russian great Prokofiev’s friendly and gutsy Concerto No. 3.
Musical nationality questions aside, this L.A. Phil evening, at the tail end of its Hollywood Bowl summer camp, was a boldly realized and perfectly pleasing occasion, with cooperative weather and scarcely any sonic intrusions (apart from some dreaded between-movement applause).
Throughout, Hrusa proved an engaging maestro whose demonstrative nature meant occasional short flights with feet off the podium, while summoning crispness and expressive robustness from the ensemble.
"Sárka" has a festive and narrative quality, with its bubbling-up of angst countered by blithe spirit, a perfect concert-opening recipe, and the post-intermission Dvorák achieved its proper Romantic comfort food status.
As pianist Trpceski came onstage, he gestured up to the back of the Bowl, with its moon in celestial vigil behind the audience. The ambient stage was set for Prokofiev's alternately lyrical and salty-muscular score, opening with light, brisk amblings on the keyboard before sliding sideways into the more angular, Russian temper of the music. Trpceski is a remarkable pianist, smartly blending restraint, sense of tonal color and knowing when and how much to unleash bravado, in measured doses.
For a brief encore, Trpceski steered away from the Czech zone again with Macedonian composer Pande Shahov's "In Struga," its folk-like themes filtered through a few elbow jabs of Modernist thinking. The crowd, and the moon, approved.