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Review: Slatkin conducts Brahms at the Hollywood Bowl

August 5, 2009 |  4:30 pm

You can usually expect something unusual from Leonard Slatkin – a juxtaposition of Elgar and Philip Glass, a program of once-popular short subjects from the 78 rpm era, reviving William Schuman’s great Symphony No. 3, among other fine recent ideas. So then, how does one explain Slatkin’s latest brainstorm for the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night – all Brahms, all the time? You could say this was unpredictably predictable programming.

Slatkin As Slatkin disarmingly pointed out, there isn’t very much to choose in orchestral Brahms – the four symphonies, four concertos, two overtures, the “Haydn” Variations, and once in a great while, the two serenades. While there are always thousands of Bowl-goers who have never heard them, it’s tempting for the rest of us, as well as performers, to yawn and take these pieces for granted. 

But Slatkin did not take Brahms for granted Tuesday night. Nor did the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Nor did Siberian violinist Vadim Repin. If this was your first Brahms concert, you made out well.

Slatkin’s rendition of the Symphony No. 2 sounded fresh, urgent, direct and communicative, establishing the swaying rhythm of the first movement from the opening bars and eliciting some beautifully phrased work from the cellos in the second. The finale was just about everything one could want – well played, rumbling forth at a vigorous clip with delicately handled transitions and a genuinely jubilant final roar.

Repin is one of the best we’ve got in the solo violin world. Like his great Russian predecessors, he can convey intensity and passion without forcing his tone – and there were some startlingly eloquent passages in the center of the first movement of the Violin Concerto that approached greatness.

The inventive, quote-laden cadenza came from one of those Russians, Jascha Heifetz; the second movement sang soulfully yet without schmaltz; and Repin was aware of the value of surprise with some splendid thrusts in the finale. While there were imperfect, not completely in tune patches (Repin’s recent Deutsche Grammophon recording is smoother in every respect), there was always something interesting going on, and Slatkin fed upon some of his soloist’s fire. 

In search of a appetizer, Slatkin briefly broke free from standard Brahms and offered a comfortably paced Hungarian Dance No. 1, one of three that Brahms orchestrated from the piano originals.  It would have been nice to have heard more of the dances; they’re perfect for the Bowl. Now there’s an idea for another Slatkin short-subject program ....

-- Richard S. Ginell

Slatkin conducts Tchaikovsky. 8 p.m. Thursday; Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave.,  Hollywood; $1 to $96; (323) 850-2000.

Photo: File photo of Leonard Slatkin. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (2)

I agree with the reviewer; this was a great All-Brahms event to take in.

Maestro Slatkin's comment on the 13 orchestral works was something that never occured to me. Mr. Slatkin is always a great educator of his audiences, which I always value as a concertgoer.

Vadim Repin adds yet another great Hollywood Bowl performance with his Brahms interpretation (his performance of the Shostakovich 1st Violin Concerto with Eri Klas comes to mind for me as one of the best concerts I;d witnessed at the Bowl).

In agreement with Mr. Ginell that Repin's DG Brhams Concerto recording is smoother than Tuesday's live rendition, but they was plenty of great technique on display, that was balanced by some beautifully crafted violin sound.

Hope we have the good fortune of seeing Vadim Repin at the Bowl again in another fantastic concerto interpretation.

Equally impressed with Mr. Slatkin's and LAPOs performance of the 2nd Symphony; great detail, which is always a challenge to bring out in an outdoor concert. Combined with the great musical structure of Brahms, the audience was truly treated to an exceptional outdoor listening experience.

Tthe Repin/Slatkin/LAPO performance, in my opinion, represents the best collaboration of Classical Music performing artists at the Bowl this season.
A great assembly of musical talent; glad I was able to take it in.

It was a great Brahms evening to take in, indeed. The opening piece by orchestra sounded fresh and elegant in Slatkin's interpretation. The Symphony No.2 was also very inspiring and refreshing.

However, Brahms Violin Concerto was the highlight of the evening. Russian violinist Vadim Repin played with great emotional intensity and drive. Mr. Repin's incredible sound and his singing-like phrasing together with well crafted passages and noble passion created an unforgettable musical picture. While I must agree with the reviewer that the performance was different from Repin’s recent Deutsche Grammophon recording, yet, I must say, that the difference was not just in technical perfection of the recording and some technical imperfection of the live performance. The performance on Tuesday night was just different in artistic and musical sense. While I think that the CD recording was absolutely great, I believe that live performance was even more engaging and inspiring because of Repin’s incredible musical intuition and his very keen sense of momentum.

I must pay specific attention to the second movement that truly showcased Repin’s incredible ability to combine artistry with logic in a perfect manner. His logically build dynamic development in combination with an array of musical colors produced by his versatile and warm tone created very gentle and pure image which brought out that dream-like Romantic nature of Brahms’ music.

At the end, I must mention, that besides being the greatest violinist in the world, Vadim Repin is truly one of the greatest artists in the world because he never plays the same. Having most of his recordings with orchestra, I must say, that witnessing a live performance by Vadim Repin is always an incredible experience because of his endless creativity and absolutely incredible sincerity of expression. Tuesday night performance was so full of energy, drive, and affection together with a great sense of form, musical structure, and deep understanding of musical content, that it is lawfully deserved to be called a masterpiece.


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