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Music review: Bramwell Tovey, Alexander Gavrylyuk, Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl

September 9, 2010 | 12:10 pm

One of the first things that Bramwell Tovey did when he started guest-conducting at the Hollywood Bowl was to freshen up the aging ritual known as the Tchaikovsky Spectacular. But his curiosity about the ever-popular Russian composer evidently doesn’t end with the last burst of fireworks over the “1812" Overture.

Tovey moved beyond the traditional Tchaikovsky repertoire at the Bowl Tuesday night, dusting off a couple of items from the composer’s seldom-examined second drawer.  This time, the fireworks came from the hands of pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk in an explosive Bowl debut.

Tovey Pianists still pound out the first Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto as often as they endorse their checks, but they rarely let on that there is a second Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto – not to mention a third.  Perhaps it is because audiences don’t cotton to the Second’s slenderer number of memorable tunes – although there are some noble themes for violin and cello in the triple-concerto-like second movement, soulfully done by violinist Bing Wang and cellist Peter Stumpf here. Perhaps it is because the piece is fiercely difficult – although one would think that technically fearless hotshots out to wow the crowd would revel in its profusion of thundering octaves, or its two-fisted chords at the fastest marked speed, prestissimo.

 Or maybe the problem is that the Second Concerto sprawls well beyond the limits of your average concerto. Uncut, it can take as many as 50 minutes to perform, practically as long as the Brahms Second.  In olden days, it used to be presented, if at all, in a heavily cut version that the composer didn’t like.  The Bowl last presented it in 1992 in a “revised” version, but this time, it was done complete – in less than 44 minutes.

Gavrylyuk, a Ukrainian in his mid-20s now living in Australia, was on fire in the huge first movement’s three cadenzas – eating up those octaves, the scales burning with visceral power – while drawing a wide variety of clearly articulated color elsewhere.  Coming out of the cadenzas, Tovey picked up on Gavrylyuk’s momentum and ran with it, his astute conducting minimizing such structural roadblocks as the strange pauses in the finale.

Wow the crowd Gavrylyuk did, and he came back with the Liszt/Horowitz circus-like take on Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” brimming with a nervous energy that, dare we say, brought back memories of one Mr. Horowitz.  Gavrylyuk sounds like he would be spectacular in Prokofiev; we’ll soon find out, for he recorded all of the concertos last year.

The other Tchaikovsky item was an extreme rarity, “Jurists’ March” – a pompous little strutter of five minutes' length, good for one flag-waving play-through and immediately vanishing from the memory.

The Russian theme continued after intermission with Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances,”  with Tovey giving it the welcome swing and sway of the dance. He decided to end this concert the way he began his first as Bowl principal guest conductor in 2008, reprising his own madcap “Urban Runway,” its clattery, jazzy cakewalks more ingratiating, arch and fun than ever.

As emcee and resident wag, Tovey was in splendid form; his wisecrack after the “Wedding March” (“A piece you might have heard several times!”) was classic.

-– Richard S. Ginell

 Above: Tovey in New York, earlier this summer. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman/For the Times

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