The concert at Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday began with the happy hum-along tunes of Glinka’s “Ruslan and Ludmila” overture. This was followed by the gushing/crashing indulgences of Rachmaninoff’s “Full Moon and Empty Arms” concerto. This gave way, after intermission, to Dvorak’s “Goin’ Home” symphony.
It wasn’t much of a night for musical esoterica. But it was a terrific night for the delectation of great Slavic slush pumps. And the music-making was canny.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic can dispatch a program like this in its sleep. Sometimes, especially at the end of an arduous summer under the airplanes, the orchestra gives the impression of doing just that.
Not on Tuesday. This easy concert was different. The music sounded almost fresh. The rhetoric sounded almost urgent. Credit the unfamiliar, unheralded man on the podium. His name is Yakov Kreizberg.
Born in Leningrad in 1959, he emigrated to the States in 1976. Los Angeles made his acquaintance when he was associated with the now-lamented Philharmonic Institute, and he conducted the student orchestra at the Bowl in 1983.
Since then he has appeared with numerous European orchestras and opera companies, more minor than major. In 1992 he conducted “Jenufa” at Glyndebourne, and in 1994 he takes over the Komische Oper, the smallest of Berlin’s three--count ‘em, three--opera companies.
Confronted with “Ruslan,” Rachmaninoff’s C-minor Concerto and Dvorak’s “New World,” many a conductor would have been content to work on automatic pilot. The basic requirements are simple: stroll to the podium, stir the air to get the sound flowing, beat time to keep things more-or-less together, poke an occasional cue in the air to tell the audience you know what’s coming next, stop when the final cadence looms.
Kreizberg did a lot more than that. He took nothing for granted. He sustained brio without sacrificing the lilt in the Glinka overture. He confronted the oozing sentiment of the Dvorak symphony without so much as a modernist blush, making the lyrical extravagances gently poetic and the dramatic outbursts almost wildly operatic. It worked.
The protagonist in the Rachmaninoff concerto, appearing here for the first time, was Helene Grimaud, a 23-year-old pianist from Aix-en-Provence. Unlike some other Wunderkind soloists plucked from relative obscurity at the Bowl this summer, she really seems to know what she is doing.
She savors the emotional rhetoric, dares to linger over introspective impulses, and allows the cantilena to surge and ebb heroically, almost impulsively, in moments of passion. The grand romantic gesture obviously does not embarrass her. She would seem to be something of a colorist, moreover, and she shades the dynamic line with minute, subtle touches.
If one can judge by the sound that emanates from the loud loudspeakers at the Bowl, she may not command a great deal of power, and, on this occasion, she did tend to blur some of the passage work. Still, it was a reassuring debut.
Kreizberg and the Philharmonic provided particularly sympathetic accompaniment. Sorry, wrong noun. Call it collaboration.
* The music had to compete with the drone of five aeronautical intrusions, four of them strategically timed to obliterate pianissimo reveries. This is getting to be a bad joke.
* A chorus of coyotes in the nearby hills contributed a staccato obbligato to Rachmaninoff’s adagio sostenuto. This is getting to be a good joke.
* Without a stellar name on the program, this mid-week concert attracted an enthusiastic audience of 11,030. Never underestimate the appeal of everyone’s Greatest Hits.