The music heard on the annual “Fireworks Finale” program at Hollywood Bowl on Friday may have amounted to little more than bagatelles, but John Mauceri’s concept was fascinating: coupling works by Russian composers who visited Los Angeles with works by Russian American composers who lived here while creating film scores.
Adding to this intriguing scherzo a la russe: the Bowl debut of the mighty Moiseyev Dance Company, artists who theatricalize folklore just as Khachaturian did in the “Sabre Dance” from the ballet “Gayane” or Franz Waxman did in “The Ride of the Cossacks” from the movie epic “Taras Bulba.”
The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra played its best in an excerpt from Khachaturian’s “Spartacus,” though Mauceri’s conducting here proved less incisive than that offered in recent performances of the complete ballet in Costa Mesa. His finest interpretation came in the waltz from Prokofiev’s “Cinderella,” structurally astute with a powerful surge.
Apart from artful solos, Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” merely plodded along, the march from Prokofiev’s “Love for Three Oranges” emerged bombastic instead of mock-bombastic, and Mauceri’s spoken introduction made Shostakovich’s arrangement of “Tea for Two” sound far more compelling than the performance itself managed to do.
Soundtrack music by Dimitri Tiomkin fared better, especially the central countdown-to-slaughter section of a suite from “Dial M for Murder,” and the main title from Alfred Newman’s score for “How the West Was Won” blazed its trail anew in a remarkably fresh rendition.
Mauceri shared conducting duties with the Moiseyev company’s Alexander Radzetskiy in a six-part segment confirming Igor Moiseyev’s brilliance at heightening distinctive movement vocabularies, whether in a trick solo (“Two Boys in a Fight,” danced by Oleg Chernasov) or a complex, large-scale ensemble (the Moldavian suite).
The Bowl video cameras seemed in confused disarray during the Bessarabian Gypsy dance, though this relatively intimate piece provided a textbook on Moiseyev methodology: how to build from low-key gestural reality to overpowering mass intensity, how to keep showpiece steps rooted in human relationships, how to make dynamics (percussive slapping, for instance) focus interest in a piece.
“Polyanka” added stage geometry to the index of Moiseyev’s choreographic arsenal, with lines of men (in pastels) and women (in primary colors) eventually merging in a big circle, with plenty of flirtation and virtuosity along the way.
The opening of Moiseyev’s Russian suite offered a disarming gravity before escalating into bravura, but his male “Adzharian War Dance” stayed in a dark, assaultive mode throughout, looking like exotic training exercises for a cadre of ninjas. Happily, the camera staff rose to the occasion.
Completing the program: a video segment documenting the Russian version of “Sesame Street” and some very noisy incendiary effects credited to Sousa Fireworks.