MUSIC REVIEW : Williams, Ma: To Each His Own


With John Williams at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Tuesday, the concert at the Hollywood Bowl seemed fated to sound more pops than not. Williams, after all, retired as conductor of the Boston Pops in 1993, after 13 seasons, and his music for almost four-score films has never lacked for popular and award-garnering appeal.

Fortunately, Yo-Yo Ma was on hand as the soloist in Elgar’s grief-stricken Cello Concerto in E minor. In the face of such a probing and sensitive account of the music as Ma delivered, focusing on technique would be an impertinence. Suffice it to say that the technique was all there and put wholeheartedly to the service of the composer’s anguished meditations on the slaughtered of World War I.

Alas, Williams provided bland orchestral support, never getting in the cellist’s way but never matching his poetic and pointed phrasing either.


If only he had paid as much attention to the details of Elgar’s concerto as he lavished on a three-part suite from his own music for the 1971 film “Jane Eyre,” all might have been well. Williams treated this work with careful, knowledgeable intimacy, overseeing its moody, quicksilver episodes with an animated alertness that it arguably didn’t warrant.

He opened each half of the program with sturdy, homogenized accounts of works by William Walton, first the “Johannesburg Festival Overture,” composed in 1956 for that city’s 70th anniversary, and the “Crown Imperial” Coronation March, written for the investiture of George VI in 1936.

The Philharmonic managed to sound like a superior studio band for most of the concert, but a number of principal players were able to come to the fore in the engaging performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ descriptive tone poem “An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise,” which closed the program.

Oddly, the piece evokes the sound of Copland’s “El Salon Mexico,” as if the proprietor of that shop, having moved his establishment to the outer islands of Scotland, catered the wedding, got a little drunk himself and threw the doors of the hall open to the world, only to find a wondrous bagpiper (in this case, Nancy Tunnicliffe in kilts) marching in.

It is an appealing piece deserving of wider familiarity, and the prominent playing of oboist Marion Arthur Kuszyk, clarinetist Michele Zukovsky, flutist Janet Ferguson, trumpeter Thomas Stevens and concertmaster Alexander Treger, in addition to Williams’ spirited conducting, helped to underline its irresistible impact on the 11,079 people in attendance.

* Williams will conduct the Philharmonic, mostly in his own music, at the Bowl on Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Information: (213) 480-3232.