Times Staff Writer

An oddball program performed with illuminating dash introduced the young Finnish conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, to Hollywood Bowl audiences at a preseason concert on Friday night.

The extravagantly gifted, 27-year-old podium personality, who made his United States debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic last fall, returned to that orchestra with another performance specializing in reconsidered standard works. As he had rethought pieces by Mendelssohn and Ravel for our delectation in November, in July he brought new ideas to items by Leonard Bernstein, Gershwin and Sibelius.

And triumphed. Though the Philharmonic did not achieve its most polished playing on this occasion, it did follow Salonen's lead with enthusiasm.

In Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story," that lead focused on rhythmic bite and musical--as opposed to theatrical--continuity. Near the beginning, the youngish and rather noisy crowd, counted by Philharmonic management at 7,522, laughed out loud when the orchestra players snapped their fingers at the first presentation of the Sharks/Jets' theme. Later, it took in stride the same players' shouts of "Mambo!"

In Sibelius' First Symphony, variable dynamics in the amphitheater's sound-dissemination system tended to obscure Salonen's apparently cohesive approach to a work that often seems to sprawl. Hearing most of it at mezzo-forte virtually reinstated the sprawl, though the young conductor certainly kept things moving in a temporal way.

Nevertheless, much of this touching piece still reached the listener and made its impact.

In "Rhapsody in Blue," James Tocco, replacing Ilana Vered on short notice (Vered reportedly sustained a hand injury), brought high style, abundant panache, musical projection, lyric sensitivity and unself-conscious jazziness to Gershwin's sometimes rambling urban mural.

Seldom has one pianist brought so much detailing to this work in the clear service of integration; it almost never seems this short, or compact, or fresh. Tocco should immediately be called upon to resuscitate other shopworn pieces. Among other splendid solo-turns from within the orchestra, one ought to single out those of clarinetist Lorin Levee, who delivered the right amounts of suggestiveness and poetry to the opening moments of, respectively, "Rhapsody in Blue" and the Sibelius symphony.

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