Though the signposts may have pointed in that direction, it wasn’t business as usual at Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night.
With another guest conductor plugged into place and the ultra-familiarities of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony staring both listeners--there were 8,901 of them--and orchestra in the face, it could have been a night of summer reruns, of routine music making with a capital D for dull.
That it wasn’t (not even close) is largely to the credit of Estonian conductor Eri Klas. A visitor to the Los Angeles Philharmonic podium in both 1991 and 1992, Klas displayed a rapport with the orchestra that made for tight, sensitive and elegant performances.
It didn’t hurt either that Dmitry Sitkovetsky arrived at concerto time with Shostakovich’s not-so-familiar First Violin Concerto in tow. This dour, satirical and difficult score (wisely suppressed by the composer until after Stalin’s death) is not your usual toe-tapping Bowl offering, but the performers put it across strongly.
The Soviet-born violinist, a patrician stylist with a commanding technique, gave a reading of unswerving intensity, an approach that made the lengthy opening Nocturne seem even longer, but which elsewhere served him, and the music, well. He bore down with considerable aggression in the two allegro movements, rendering their pyrotechnics with the lean force of a rock guitarist. In the Passacaglia and cadenza that follows it, he seemed to muscle the music to ever greater heights, in a rising line of thought.
Klas and the Philharmonic accompanied with equal conviction and almost equal polish, though put at a slight, but real, disadvantage by the Bowl amplification, which gave unrealistic prominence to the soloist.
After intermission Klas led a reading of Tchaikovsky’s symphony as remarkable for its delicate detail and graceful lyricism, for the wide dynamic range he coaxed from our orchestra, as for its sturdy force. Other conductors certainly discover more fire in this work, but Klas uncovers its charms and profundities (and they do exist) as well as anyone.
Philharmonic, which can probably play this work standing on its collective head, responded with unflagging discipline and involvement: Every Klas head feint and hand twist was met with a closely nuanced orchestral equivalent.
After a hefty “Star-Spangled Banner” (complete with Tchaikovsky Fourth quote), the conductor opened with an occasionally untidy, but vivid and, at the end, pliantly poetic reading of the Mussorgsky work.