Music review: L.A. Phil with Slatkin, Olga Kern at Hollywood Bowl
No two musicians seemed more unalike. There was the tall 36-year-old Russian pianist Olga Kern, known for her flamboyant, quirky and operatic temperament, towering over mild-mannered guest conductor Leonard Slatkin. But on Thursday at the Hollywood Bowl, their rapport proved ideal as he led her and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in an expansive, sensational account of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
Slatkin and the Philharmonic allowed Kern plenty of room, at the same time firmly supporting and sustaining the inspired ebb and flow of her interpretation. Though Kern may have ebbed and flowed a bit too much in the melodious 18th variation, her fierce concentration and absolute mastery of this daunting score made it work. She blazed through its many difficult passages, articulating them cleanly. She also warmly conveyed its many moments of repose. It was a mischievous account, suiting the composer’s witty inventions, and Kern’s delivery of the finale’s surprisingly quiet coda elicited audible delight from the audience of 7,903.
A prolonged standing ovation brought Kern back for a single encore: Rachmaninoff’s Moments musicaux Op.16, No. 4, crisply executed.
After intermission, Slatkin and the Philharmonic returned with Brahms’ elegiac Fourth Symphony in a relaxed, perfectly paced reading. Slatkin, who has been conducting at the Bowl since the '70s, obviously knows some acoustical secrets of this large venue. Instrumental sonorities were exquisitely balanced, and never sounded artificially amplified.
The concert’s curtain-raiser, the Philharmonic’s first performance of Elliott Carter’s "Holiday" Overture, written in 1944 to celebrate the Allied liberation of Paris, was terrific. Its brassy Coplandesque exuberance could hardly hide Carter’s own complexly rhythmic voice just starting to emerge. Carter, who will turn 103 in December, still had a lot more to say.
Photo: Leonard Slatkin at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday. Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times