The disposition of musical events--their relative success or failure--cannot be predicted, any more than can the character of most human endeavors. People change, and things are not always what they seemed.
For example: One approached Hollywood Bowl with a certain trepidation Tuesday night, for the guest artists appearing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic were conductor Andrew Litton and pianist Peter Donohoe.
Now, neither of these, in our experience, has strewn abundant thrills upon his listeners in previous visits. In fact, both have been known to disappoint. And the works on this program-- Glinka’s “Russlan and Ludmilla” Overture, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony--happen to be musical mine fields, ultrafamiliar pieces that are also trap-filled opportunities for serious stumbling.
As it turned out, Litton and Donohoe exceeded what may have been expected of them by the cynical: They produced viable, apprehendable musical performances respectable in every wise.
Donohoe may not have found all the Herz und Schmerz we know lives at this Rachmaninovian address, but his reading proved neat, honest and comforting--a sturdy, two-dimensional perspective of a three-dimensional, emotional world. The British pianist played every last note reliably, and indicated much of the wit and sentiment in the piece.
Litton accomplished much the same with Tchaikovsky’s deceptively straightforward text, one which has defeated the attempts of conducting legions to pace its climaxes and override its longueurs.
The approach may have been too light--that finale never found its full and stentorian voice, for instance. But the naturalness and ease with which the young American conductor achieved this persuasive--perhaps less than completely compelling--performance proved surprising. Through it all, the orchestra gave what was called for: real attentiveness, transparent textures, clean balances.
And did so from the beginning of the evening, where a beautifully phrased, genuinely singable national anthem and a thoroughly poised Overture set the tone.