Just about every violinist worth his resin plays the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. So do some fiddlers unworthy of the viscous substance.
Tchaikovsky’s hum-along showpiece has been irresistible for more than a hundred years. In our time, its fire, its flash and, yes, its mush have brought out the best as well as the worst in virtuosos from Amoyal to Zukerman, not to mention Heifetz to Elman, Milstein to Stern and Oistrakh to Ricci. Itzhak Perlman alone has left four different recordings of the infernal thing for a doubtlessly grateful posterity, and he isn’t through yet.
At this point, most string-plying heroes can conquer the D-major hurdles in their sleep. Some, alas, give the impression of doing just that.
Not Joshua Bell.
He’s smart. He’s sensitive. He’s incredibly talented. He’s well-trained. And he’s only 27. He obviously hasn’t had time to get bored with the challenge.
Tuesday night at a sweltering Hollywood Bowl, Bell somehow managed to make the tired warhorse resemble a sprightly colt. It was a remarkable achievement.
He refreshed the opening allegro with sweet, slender tone and insinuating nuance, yet never allowed the sentiment to cloy, never suggested that bravura triumph could be an end in itself. He made the middle-movement canzonetta soar, finding a telling middle-ground between lyrical grace and earthy passion. Then, without so much as a pause or a whimper, he launched into the climactic curlicues of the vivacissimo finale with easy, breathless elegance. In the process, he actually made the prosaic elements seem poetic.
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, this week’s guest on the podium, abdicated for the summer by Esa-Pekka Salonen, provided competent rather than inspiring support with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It would be less than accurate to claim that either the maestro or his sensibly shirt-sleeved players seconded the soloist’s freshness and urgency. But the professionalism on display was reassuring and, for a welcome change, the microphones proved reasonably kind. When it comes to alfresco acoustics, one has to be grateful for loud favors.
Skrowaczewski opened the oddly balanced program with a vibrant, propulsive account of the second suite from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The conductor’s tempos would have forced the courtly Montagues and Capulets to do some awkwardly lively stepping. Still, his essentially symphonic approach to the ballet score carried an abstract logic of its own.
One wondered, incidentally, how many on the stage--and in the audience officially tabulated at 7,944--recalled Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev dancing Prokofiev’s star-crossed lovers in 1967 with the Royal Ballet in the same gargantuan, intrinsically unlikely locale. In those days, we took chances.
After intermission, Skrowaczewski returned for the 18 minutes required to splash through Ravel’s second “Daphnis et Chloe” suite. He splashed with a little refinement and a lot of gusto. The Philharmonic--which has recorded this music with bluster for Zubin Mehta, with restraint for Andre Previn and with poise for Erich Leinsdorf--performed for its latest boss pro-tem with enlightened routine.