Music review: Lionel Bringuier and Augustin Hadelich at the Hollywood Bowl


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Conducting at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York earlier this month, Lionel Bringuier was described as ‘startlingly young’ by the New York Times. A few days later, he made his Proms debut in London. The Guardian described him as ‘amazingly young.’

But at the Hollywood Bowl Thursday night, Bringuier was an old pro. Sure, he looked dashing and cosmopolitan on the video screens in his summer white jacket and new haircut. Bringuier reportedly was a magnet for French models at Lincoln Center. Still, it was four years ago that he was hired as an assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he is now a popular associate conductor. In his native France, where novelists in their early teens have lately become literary sensations, a 23-year-old conductor might seem nearly over-the-hill.


Bringuier’s Bowl program was neither youthful nor lively, but rather a bread-and-butter, dead-white-male composer, German-Czech sandwich of Dvorák, Mendelssohn and Brahms. But it concluded with an elegant, nearly sunny Brahms’ First Symphony and featured another rising young musician, Augustin Hadelich, 26, as soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Earlier on Thursday, I dug out a recording of the Brahms First that Leopold Stokowski made in 1945 with his short-lived Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. A powerful New York critic, Irving Kolodin, sniffed at the time that the ‘Hollywoodish’ performance was ‘Sunkist rather than sun-lit.’ I don’t understand what’s wrong with a little Vitamin D. I happen to love this recording. Bringuier’s Brahms was, I thought, sunlit and sun-kissed, even lighter and fresher than Stokowski’s.

French Brahms, when you can find it, is usually refreshing, with clotted instrumental textures thinned to reveal interesting inner lines and details. The First Symphony introduction, with its timpani thumping to get your attention, can’t, of course, be bleached. But it also doesn’t have to sound as though a pick-up truck with a 10,000-watt amplifier powering a bank of subwoofers is parked behind the shell, and it didn’t sound that way on Tuesday. To put it another way, the fabric of the sound was closer to silken cashmere than rough wool.

Throughout the symphony, Bringuier brought out the tartness of unexpected harmonies. Like Stokowski, but in his own way and with less exaggerated tempos, he replaced agitation with exhilaration.

With experience, Bringuier will no doubt learn to illuminate the inner movements. The Finale, though, was all his own, and a pleasure. He phrased the catchy big tune with uncommon delicacy, letting its lyricism flow uninterrupted. In the development section he revealed buried treasures in the brass and woodwinds. The final measures were fast and actually fun. Nouvelle Brahms, anyone?

Dvorák’s ‘Carnival’ Overture opened the program with blazing fast, light and rhythmically alluring playing from the orchestra, which sounded very good all evening. And I would have expected something similar from Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Mendelssohn wrote the score near the end of his short life. He was 36, but it has always been a work that attracts young violinists, who love to make light of its virtuosic difficulties.

Hadelich played the solo part with complete mastery, a creamy tone and grand expression. He was showy in a tasteful way, but he was not light. In this, Bringuier supported his soloist, and together they bulked up Mendelssohn into a kind of proto-Brahms. Such an approach needn’t necessarily prove alienating. Hadelich’s intense, durable playing had something to say. The audience was visibly moved by this committed violinist. But thus far I find him less forced in other repertory.

A recent CD includes Hadelich’s gripping accounts of Bartók and Ysaÿe solo sonatas. For an encore Thursday, he played Paganini’s spirited Caprice No. 17 with an effortless musicality that here confirmed reports of an important career in the making.

Hadelich also won this week’s quirky fashion contest at the Bowl. Contenders on Tuesday were a conductor in a long white coat (a loser) and a pianist in a white Chinese number (nice). Hadelich wore a wonderful white pajama-like Indian outfit. A fellow critic found it inappropriately informal. I thought he looked dazzlingly sun-lit. May it also loosen up his Mendelssohn.

-- Mark Swed


Augustin Hadelich is prepared this time for his Hollywood Bowl concert

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