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An affinity with Mahler comes into play

Special to The Times

At first, it looked as if Thursday night might be one of those nights at the Hollywood Bowl -- an evening from urban hell.

For a good portion of the concert’s opener, Beethoven’s “Coriolan” Overture, the folks who run the Goodyear blimp thought it would be a neat idea to buzz the Bowl, flashing ad copy in barbarous electric-red letters, droning all the way. It was a rude reminder of the days when we used to keep a tally of the aircraft there; sometimes the count would number in the teens.

Yet by the end of the evening, we were immersed in other memories -- good ones -- of conductor Edo de Waart and his affinity for the symphonies of Gustav Mahler.

When De Waart presided in San Francisco in the early 1980s, his first recording there was an excellent, floating Fourth, and one of his concerts that opened Davies Symphony Hall featured the gigantic Eighth.

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Later, in the Netherlands, he recorded all nine completed symphonies in a set that, alas, flew under the radar of international attention.

De Waart’s involvement with Mahler has evidently grown deeper, for he and a clearly responsive Los Angeles Philharmonic ended his first week at the Bowl since 1988 with a splendid Symphony No. 1.

From the beginning, you could sense the gears turning, with De Waart bringing forward all kinds of small enlivening details in the winds, carefully shaping each phrase. The rhythms of the first and second movements emerged with a finely gauged lilt; the parodies in the third movement had a real klezmer flavor, with a delicate, hushed Viennese mood falling over the reminiscence from “Songs of a Wayfarer.”

Armed with experience, De Waart knew how to hold back the Finale’s floodgates with just the right split-second timing before allowing them to burst. This was masterful Mahler -- and yes, it happened at the Bowl in the alleged dog days of August.

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The “Coriolan” -- from what could be heard of it -- fell into place in an unusually graceful manner, the blunt edges softened. After it, concertmaster Alexander Treger struggled with intonation in the first movement of the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4, but the problems were mostly gone by the second movement, and we could concentrate on his passionate, incisive conception.


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