Music review: Waltzing Dudamel plays the glock at the Hollywood Bowl
Apparently Gustavo Dudamel figured he could waltz through the final night of his two week-stint that opened the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Hollywood Bowl season. “Dudamel Conducts Strauss” was the title of Thursday's program. The evening was to have been devoted mainly to Johann Strauss Jr., along with waltzes from Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” and Bruch’s Violin Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman as soloist.
Somewhere along the line, Dudamel changed his mind. He began the program, as originally planned, with the Overture to “Die Fledermaus” and ended with “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.” But perhaps not wanting this to seem too much like New Years’ Eve in July, out was most of the Strauss, replaced by Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
It was still a lighthearted finish to follow Dudamel’s earlier Bowl concerts, Russian and Mozart nights and his concert performance of Puccini’s “Turandot.” And although Thursday’s crowd-pleasing program wouldn’t have startled a Boston Pops audience in 1957, the attendance of 8,209, while impressive for a weeknight classical program, was actually around 1,000 fewer for Dudamel’s other heavier Bowl nights.
That said, this was quite a show. Dudamel joked to the audience about how some of these pieces have become classical music clichés, sold as best-loved tunes. But the virtuoso demands in something like Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody is, he noted, really hard. And Dudamel likes nothing better than making what is really hard look not only easy but fabulous fun.
But he also worked off the calories. His “Fledermaus” was flexible and in many sections scintillatingly fast. It was full of moves that seemed as much sexy tango as waltz. And the instrumental details popped out with marvelous immediacy.
Those qualities, as well as Dudamel’s dancer-like ability to take great pauses and organically pick up the tempo in a way that practically lifts a listener off his seat, served Romanian and Hungarian rhapsodizing just fine as well. Maybe even too well. A little of this goes a long way, and while Dudamel never went overboard, he will have to be careful that he doesn’t create his own clichés.
These were also fabulous performances by the L.A. Philharmonic. By keeping the orchestra on its, so to speak, toes –- and the many small solo passages were, each, a mini-pleasure –- there was a brilliance and sheen that asked each piece to be re-evaluated as fresh and vital music, as music for now. That is something that would have startled a Boston Pops audience of 1957. It can't be long before the Vienna Philharmonic puts Dudamel on the podium for one its New Year's Eve bashes.
Zukerman also has a reputation these days of waltzing, and not in the best sense of the word, through blockbuster concertos. This time, on his first appearance with the L.A. Philharmonic in a decade, he didn’t. He gave a masterful account of the Bruch. And if there was a slight bit of intonation uncertainty in fast passages, there was nothing uncertain about where they were heading.
This was a remarkably driven performance, remarkable because Zukerman could be both expansive, which Bruch’s Romantic vehicle demands, yet utterly focused and determined. His tone was tight, and in the last movement he sometimes seemed, like a Tour de France veteran on a beyond-category mountain, saving himself for a big finish. But he took in the scenery and let Dudamel do the big rhapsodizing with the orchestra.
A surprise encore was the “Pizzicato Polka,” with Dudamel delightedly playing the glockenspiel interjections himself. Don’t let this get around to other orchestras in America, but the L.A. Philharmonic players, smiling and even laughing, looked like they were having a ball.
-- Mark Swed
Photos: top, Gustavo Dudamel conducting and playing the glockenspiel in "Pizzicato Polka"; bottom, violinist Pinchas Zukerman with Dudamel. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times