MUSIC REVIEWS : Chieftains Provide Punch at the Bowl

Some Hollywood studio musicians, we've been told, dream of getting out of the studio to play classical music. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, on the other hand, appears to be trying to play as if it's a faceless studio ensemble assigned uninteresting background scores.

Heard under the direction of John Mauceri in a Celtic-theme program Friday at Hollywood Bowl, the orchestra emerged as if already on celluloid. The playing was edgeless, unemphatic, uncompelling and lacked personality.

Although Mauceri gets better and better as a genially entertaining and enlightening host, as a conductor he remains uninsightful and preoccupied with tempos and dynamics at the expense of letting music blossom.

He was at his best negotiating the complexities of Peter Maxwell Davies' tone poem, "An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise." But he led the Overture to Bellini's "Norma" with blocky phrasing, lack of contrast and relentless propulsion.

He opened the Prelude from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" with welcome flexibility but not much emotional yearning, and he tended to box in soprano Jane Eaglen in the ensuing Liebestod.

A principal with the English National Opera, Eaglen is the genuine article, a Wagnerian soprano of vocal heft, brightness and clarity, who negotiated the heights with security and expansive silvery tone. Her attention to text, however, seemed rather generalized here.

Appearing with Mauceri and the orchestra were the Irish traditional musicians nonpareil, the Chieftains--Paddy Moloney, Sean Keane, Kevin Conneff, Martin Fay, Derek Bell and Matt Molloy.

In a series of selections, including music Moloney wrote for the 1978 film "Tristan and Isolde," the Chieftains played with their familiar irresistible sweetness, lilt and heart-aching sadness, incidentally giving object lessons in expressive rhythms and phrasings.

During one of their pieces, dancer Michael Flatley flew over the stage with gliding sprints, flashing footwork and spirited, high back kicks in a remarkable but brief appearance. Fortunately, the nine Patricia Kennelly Dancers provided a later chance to witness the appealing buoyancy of this style.

Piper Nancy Tunnicliffe also tootled securely. Film star Anjelica Huston made a surprise cameo appearance, singing--hoarsely--a ballad with Moloney. Eaglen returned to play tambourine with the Chieftains and to close the program singing the vocalise of the "Star Trek" television program theme. What a waste of resources.

Attendance: 12,276 on Friday; 14,622 on Saturday.

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