Intimacy is a relative concept at the Hollywood Bowl. Warmly communicative musicians can turn the cavernous venue into something like a living room. And that's just what happened Tuesday when listeners were held rapt by Bramwell Tovey, principal guest conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic at the Bowl, in a rousing, serene and triumphant program of works by Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber.
The coziness was most apparent during the concert's centerpiece, Barber's rapturous Violin Concerto, when the audience remained hushed after the first movement, allowing the superlative 33-year-old Canadian soloist James Ehnes to take a moment to tune his violin in the cool night air.
Ehnes last performed the Barber at the Bowl in 1998, but it's hard to imagine the earlier account matching this one for sheer magic. Ehnes' songlike vibrato and alluring tone were a marvel. In the nonstop, virtuosic Presto finale, Ehnes and Tovey negotiated the heart-pounding rhythmic and metrical irregularities with aplomb.
Last year, they won a Grammy for their recording of the Barber, Korngold and Walton Violin Concertos with the Vancouver Symphony, where Tovey is music director. If anything, this performance, though perhaps not quite as refined, thrilled even more.
The concert opener, Bernstein's Overture to "Candide," proved a glittering and colorful showcase for the Philharmonic.
After intermission, Barber's lovely Intermezzo from his Pulitzer Prize-winning first opera, "Vanessa," shimmered. Next was Bernstein's Symphonic Suite from the 1954 picture "On the Waterfront." It's his only film score, and it remains among the greatest ever composed, even if Dimitri Tiomkin won an Oscar that year for "The High and the Mighty."
The British-born Tovey showed how fully at ease he is in Bernstein's American idiom, delivering a touching, powerful account that caught the music's manic urban energy and yearning. Almost a miniature concerto for orchestra, the Suite allowed Catherine Ransom Karoly's flute, William Lane's horn, Donald Green's trumpet, James Rotter's saxophone and Joseph Pereira and his fellow percussionists to shine. Tovey's precise and perfectly paced reading made a compelling case for a score that should be programmed more often, as it was during Bernstein's lifetime.
For some reason, this concert is not among those listed for broadcast by KUSC-FM (91.5). It should be. This was a great night at the Bowl.