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Music review: Bramwell Tovey, Stephen Hough and the L.A. Phil at Hollywood Bowl

August 11, 2010 |  2:05 pm

An old friend and a new one turned up Tuesday at the Hollywood Bowl. The old friend wasn’t the conductor, the soloist or any member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It was composer Bedrich Smetana, a pied piper who has drawn countless youngsters into the joys of classical music. The new friend was pianist Stephen Hough, who will lead another generation of listeners into similar delirium.

Hough copy Smetana enticed all over again as Bramwell Tovey led the Overture, Polka, Furiant and Dance of the Comedians from the opera “The Bartered Bride,” and the once perennial tone poem “The Moldau.”

Smetana’s music is robust, healthy, accessible and joyful. Those were the qualities that Tovey emphasized, as he began his third season under the mantle of principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, a precise, if over-qualified title.

Tovey led the madcap Overture with never-flagging zip, the strings biting into the short, crisp, ever-expanding motifs, building into an electric, layered fugue, the whole pulsing with energy and life.

His account of the three dances that followed tended toward too much rhythmic regularity at the expense of variety of phrasing and contrast, although principal timpanist Joseph Pereira had some tasteful show-off moments in the Comedians’ dance.

But Tovey recaptured the high ground with a sensitive reading of “The Moldau,” prefacing the work with droll and witty comments from the stage, including word-play on “bouncing Czechs” and “bouncing checks,” then coaxing seductive playing from the superb woodwinds.

After intermission, Hough joined Tovey for an exceptionally poetic and powerful account of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto. (Brahms’ Second is on tap Thursday at the Bowl with Tovey and soloist Emanuel Ax.)

Hough didn’t rely on razzle-dazzle to beguile an audience. Instead, he played with quiet, probing lyricism, nevertheless turning up the power whenever it was needed. He proved incapable of routine — yet never indulged in finicky or misjudged statements. He made this familiar music sound newly written. Welcome him back anytime.

In the slow movement, bassoonists Whitney Crockett and Shawn Mouser helped establish the radiant, reflective mood, and elsewhere principal horn Eric Overholt played with unfailing lyric nobility.

Kudos also to the masters of the Bowl’s amplification system and its cameras. The sound was clear and transparent throughout, while the camera images focused deftly on the conductor, instrumentalists and the soloist, particularly on Hough’s fleet, expressive hands.

– Chris Pasles 

Bramwell Tovey conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Hollywood Bowl;  8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, Sept. 2, 7 and 9; 8:30 p.m. Aug. 20 and 21; $1 to $156 (323) 850-2000.

Photo of Stephen Hough by Grant Hiroshima


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Comments () | Archives (7)

Acknowledging outstanding musicians in the orchestra is a nice touch. But give your readers a little more credit: you don't need to spell out what "bouncing Czechs" sounds like.

Concur with the review here by Mr. Pasles; the contrast between the weight and lyricism of the Brahms Concerto were highlighted by Steven Hough's attention to the musical score here. His collective experiences with this work resulted in a great performance. Good to see him back at the Bowl again.

There is enough power in Brahms' writing here; no need for "over interpretation" or dynamic excesses. Agree that the consistent amplication enhanced the concerto performance.

Exceptional performance of the Moldau as well with rather true outdoor sonics.

Always enjoy Bramwell Tovey's wit, humor and candor in his discussion of the works of Smetana and Brahms. We are fortunate to have him for a number of concerts this summer. His oratory enhanced what was already a great concert experience for me.

Overholt got the principal horn position? Hmmm. . . . . . . . . . .

No, markiejoe, Eric is the Associate Principal but was playing first horn in this concert. The search for the next Principal is continuing.

I'd heard they'd made a principal horn offer a while ago, but have to wait for that person to conclude previous commitments.

No, markiejoe, what you had heard is not true.

According to the NY Times, a Principal Horn offer had been made by the LA Phil to Eric Ralske (acting Assoc. Principal of the NY Phil); however, after some consideration, he chose to accept a competing offer from the Met Opera Orchestra to be their Principal Horn.


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