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MUSIC REVIEW : Touring Halle Orchestra Wraps Up at Hollywood Bowl

TIMES MUSIC WRITER

Pleasantness is a virtue, but what one dreams of in an orchestra is virtuosity--not just the ability to play fast, clean and resonantly, but the skills to touch the listener with lyricism, profundity, bombast and nuance, and more.

A measurable lack of virtuosity marked the disappointing final program by the touring Halle Orchestra of Manchester, England, over the weekend at Hollywood Bowl. After making agreeable impressions earlier in the week, the ensemble, led by principal conductor Kent Nagano, appeared to have run out of steam--and repertory. Friday night, its playing achieved genuine mediocrity.

This performance of a cleverly arranged pops program, climaxing in an efficient run-through of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” accompanied by a diverting and visually busy light-and-laser show, simply did not live up to the built-in demands for orchestral brilliance.

The most disappointing playing came first, in a lackluster, apparently under-rehearsed revival of Benjamin Britten’s ever-wondrous “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” in which actress Lynn Redgrave was the gracious narrator. This work offers thrilling opportunities for the instrumental ensemble; written as a tour de force, it materialized here as a modest overture, weakly shaped by Nagano, and showcasing neither orchestral soloists nor choirs.

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Another British actor, Timothy Dalton, brought welcome wit, reserve and verbal point to the spoken lines accompanying Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” but the unmotivated conducting of Nagano and the characterless playing of his Halle band fell short of true effectiveness.

Nonetheless, an audience counted at 13,511 on Friday (and reportedly sold out to the regulation 17,979 on Saturday) greeted the proceedings amicably. The Saturday crowd got an encore: Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on “Greensleeves.”


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