The Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute Orchestra began its 1988 season indoors, which should give its young musicians confidence going into their first Hollywood Bowl concert next weekend. As amply demonstrated Sunday evening at Royce Hall, they play with well-focused vigor across a wide dynamic spectrum.
The orchestra, however, was cast in a supporting role in the unexpected artistic main event. Compositionally, Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto in A minor should stand very humbly between Mozart's "Haffner" Symphony and Brahms' Fourth. In the inspired hands of institute director Lynn Harrell, though, it quite stole the show.
Harrell gave his vehicle the benefit of grandly sustained, singing lines and surely controlled technical vehemence in an unflappably suave performance. He resorted to understated suggestion as tellingly as to broadly rhetorical declamation, making the subtle Allegretto the interpretative as well as chronological center of his account.
The cellist acknowledged the tumultuous audience response with a caressive, unaccompanied rendition of Falla's "Nana" in encore.
In the concerto, Harrell made no concessions to his youthful accompanists in either dynamic scale or flexible tempos. Their support proved worthy of his effort, however, as conducting fellow Anne Harrigan elicited crisp, clean and endlessly accommodating playing from a scaled-down ensemble.
The orchestra Harrigan inherited had been reduced for the opening Mozart, energetically led by conducting fellow Kirk Muspratt. He took an inconsistent approach to Classical structures, omitting some repeats while enforcing others, but got the orchestra to play with both muscularity and grace.
Heiichiro Ohyama, the Philharmonic's principal violist and assistant conductor, was on the podium for the would-be climactic Brahms Symphony. The full orchestra gave him everything he asked for--and it was a lot--in the way of extroverted, almost exaggerated, power-playing.
They also gave him some stridency, crude intonation and awkward balances. Ohyama took a combative approach to the piece, indulging each moment with little apparent regard for larger connections. The result was a sprawling patchwork--some patches quite beautiful, but with all the seams showing.