Repertory--or rather, the lack of it--is the curse of viola soloists. Yuri Bashmet, however, made his local debut Thursday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with not one, but two concertos, on a neatly balanced program with Andrew Davis and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Neat on paper, at least. In practice, the first half, pairing the somewhat proto-classical Concerto in G by Telemann with Stravinsky’s somewhat neoclassical Symphony in C, proved distinctly short on thrills.
But Davis, Bashmet and company turned up the heat in the second half. Working from the score, the Ukrainian violist applied a wide timbral palette and assured lyric grace to the Walton Concerto, while Davis’ ideas about Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite emphasized extreme contrasts, clarity and vigor.
Bashmet can produce a roar from his instrument, particularly on the C string, but he also relies heavily on feathery, almost muted sounds. He can turn a phrase with rare charm and naturalness, and power his way through passage work.
All of this gave the Walton a full measure of savvy songfulness and urgent passion. Davis and the Philharmonic accompanied with equal and generally accommodating flair.
“The Firebird” turned formulaic in the Finale, but before that it had the courage of some high-impact convictions. Davis began in controlled mystery, gave the dances a well-accented yet supple sense of movement and let Kastchei’s infernalities explode violently.
The Philharmonic gave him clean textures, incisively articulated rhythm, and lustrous solos. The orchestra stammered and stumbled at times, however, in the Symphony, in which Davis tried to make sheer industriousness cover a dearth of ideas.
Davis began the concert with a minute of silence, the audience standing, in sympathy for the victims of the war. This will be a feature of all Philharmonic concerts, he announced, until the war is over.
Then Bashmet launched into the Telemann, stylistically innocent other than little cadential elaborations in the slow movements. He sang artfully and bustled bravely to pleasant, superficial purpose. Davis and a small chamber contingent of the Philharmonic supported him with aplomb.