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Music review: Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos at the Hollywood Bowl

August 17, 2011 | 12:48 pm

Rafael Frubeck de Burgos at the Hollywood Bowl
In a Los Angeles Philharmonic summer at the Hollywood Bowl thus far dominated by young conductors (none over 35) and favoring Russian repertory, Tuesday night brought something fresh: a veteran Spanish maestro and Spanish and French music. But, sadly, a smaller than usual crowd (under 6,000).

Too bad, because Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducted. Manuel de Falla’s beguiling 1927 ballet, “El Amor Brujo” (Love the Magician), heard surprisingly seldom, began the evening. Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” heard all the time but always good for a splash in the Cahuenga Pass, was the other piece on the program. The performances were wonderful.

Everyone, it seems, loves Frühbeck these days. He could be, a friend suggested, a Spanish gentleman in a Luis Buñuel film, bemused by a love, mysticism and a surreal world. Both pieces Tuesday were fantastical, and he controlled them with a nonplused panache. His gestures are broad, and he looked like he was simply opening a tap so that instrumental colors might pour forth -- and they did, vividly.

Both ballet and symphony tell of feverish love not contained by the rules of the normal universe. In “El Amor Brujo,” the ghost of a young Gypsy must be placated for her to take a new lover. Exorcism, which is represented in the work’s best known number –- the “Ritual Fire Dance” -- doesn’t succeed. But seduction, by the Gypsy’s friend, does.

Inspired by the Andalusian flamenco style known as cante jondo, Falla’s score contains song and dance. There are three numbers for mezzo-soprano, which were sung with sultry effectiveness by Tamara Mumford, a young opera singer with a magnificent dark tone.

Frühbeck is a Falla specialist, and he conveyed the atmosphere of a delicate, perfumed but slightly awry Spanish night. “The Ritual Fire Dance” was less for show than an indication of a mysterious current in the air. There was a hint of melancholy in Mumford’s songs. The love music was played with fetching suavity. The L.A. Philharmonic sounded altogether besotted: solos -- there are many –- were bewitching.

“Symphonie Fantastique” has been a specialty of the last three Los Angeles Philharmonic music directors: André Previn, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel. The score is in the blood of the orchestra. Frühbeck, who conducted both pieces from memory, was not fussy. If he had a more detached approach to the symphony (which, at 50 minutes, is twice the length of the ballet), that might have been because of the severely limited rehearsal time for Bowl concerts. He clearly wanted to put his stamp on the less familiar Falla.

But that lack of fuss might also have been because the fantastique of "Symphonie Fantastique" is not seductive supernaturalism but rather a representation of Berlioz’s drug-induced hallucinations. It takes something more than flirtation to end a witches orgy; that is the job of an exorcising Dies Irae and the tolling of large bells.

There were a few unusual aspects to the performance. The trumpet in the ballroom scene, the second movement, stood out mariachi-like. A country scene, the third movement, had a lovely delicacy. The symphony alternates between reverie and revelry. The former was always lyrical and poetic. The latter was fast and just slightly out of control, but never crazy.

As always, Frühbeck kept the players on their toes, knowing when to manipulate and when to let go, producing the kind of droll excitement perhaps gotten only with the discreet charm of a Buñuelian.

Frühbeck returns Thursday to conduct Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. And, happily, more Falla will be on the Bowl bill next week.

RELATED:

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Music review: Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos at the L.A. Philharmonic

Music review: Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducts the LA Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic Tuesday night at the Hollywood Bowl. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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