Lawrence Foster Displays Brahms Mastery at Bowl


When effective conducting works, it looks easy, its results resonate in ear and mind, and the technicalities seem to take care of themselves. Such was the case at Lawrence Foster’s second Hollywood Bowl concert of the week, leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a Mendelssohn/Brahms program.

Brahms’ symphonies test a leader’s skills particularly; they are exposed and require a light but practiced hand. Brahms’ Second has trapped many an adept: Push it too hard and it becomes mechanical, like a music box out of control; let it relax and its sprawl spreads to the horizon.

Foster’s mastery of the D-major Symphony on Thursday balanced urgency with mellowness, motion with repose. While allowing Brahms’ rhetoric to unfold with the naturalness of storytelling, the conductor also coaxed the orchestra into illuminating the work’s details. Climaxes spoke, thought followed thought, glorious sounds emanated from the entire ensemble, but especially from the horns.


The same kinds of brightness and articulation brought freshness to Mendelssohn’s familiar Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And before that, as solid and serious a “Star-Spangled Banner” as any heard recently made one willing to join in and sing.

Alexander Treger, the Philharmonic’s second-ranking concertmaster, who has been on sabbatical for the last season, took the solo spot at mid-program to play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with his characteristic resourcefulness.

The opening, despite a few nervous moments, went smoothly. In the Andante, Treger’s playing sang out with special poignancy. The finale, well under control, displayed its charms as expected until, near the end, soloist became temporarily detached from his accompaniment. Not to worry: Treger rejoined the ensemble soon after, and sailed triumphantly to the end.