Review: Bowl's big night with Daniil Trifonov, a Schoenberg 'Bounce'

For those who like tangled webs of local connections with their music, the Hollywood Bowl served up a dandy of a lineup Tuesday night.

There were two composers who lived their last years in Beverly Hills: George Gershwin on Roxbury Drive and Sergei Rachmaninoff on Elm Drive. There was a newcomer, Adam Schoenberg (no relation to Arnold) who is distantly related by marriage to the Gershwin family and now teaches at the same university (UCLA) where his noted namesake, Arnold Schoenberg, once taught. And there was an unexpected encore from Igor Stravinsky of Wetherly Drive in West Hollywood.

The names Gershwin and Rachmaninoff alone were probably enough to boost the attendance count to 11,202, which is huge for a classical-music Tuesday night. Also, there was the Bowl debut of a hot 22-year-old Russian pianist, Daniil Trifonov, whose career has been on fire since winning the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011.  

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Trifonov stamped his presence immediately at the top of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 –-- taking those solo opening chords so slowly but with increasing tension, after which conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Los Angeles Philharmonic suddenly took off at a faster tempo.

He crouched low over the keys with a lean, hungry look, sometimes glowering, definitely a performer made for the big video screens. He liked to indulge in big, rhapsodic Russian rubatos, yet thankfully he didn’t let them cross the line into schmaltz. What this performance lacked was a sense of the overall architecture of each movement -- things tended to drift episodically at times -- but that will come eventually.  

Trifonov’s encore, a piano transcription of the Infernal Dance from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” was even more impressive -- shot through with bombs-away fireworks and meticulous delicacy, played as if Stravinsky had been transcribed by Liszt.

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Adam Schoenberg’s “Bounce,” the West Coast premiere of a Philharmonic co-commission, was a cheery, enjoyable orchestral exercise with a recurring chord pattern seemingly rooted in basic rock ’n’ roll, some motor rhythms and a satisfying bump at the end. All told, a good fit for the Bowl.

The concert opened and closed with Gershwin -- and not-everyday Gershwin at that. Although it’s great to hear the percolating “Cuban Overture” anytime, this performance never really got rocking; the percussion section wasn’t quite in the groove and overall, it sounded under-rehearsed.  

Robert Russell Bennett’s superb Symphonic Picture of music from “Porgy and Bess” has been shunted to the sidelines in recent years by Gershwin’s own suite, “Catfish Row,” but I find it a more satisfying selection of this score’s riches, even if the orchestration sometimes has more of a Bennett “Victory At Sea” sound than a Gershwin sound. Harth-Bedoya and company caught most of its essence.


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