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Music review: Joshua Bell with the L.A. Phil at Hollywood Bowl

August 10, 2011 | 11:30 am

Joshua Bell

It’s hard to believe today, but Vivaldi’s meteorological violin concerto cycle “The Four Seasons” was once virtually unknown until Louis Kaufman’s 1947 recording basically put the piece on the map. Now it’s everywhere -– in movies and television ads, recorded endlessly, played constantly on classical radio, quoted by Peter Schickele in his notorious “Classical Rap.”

Into this overcrowded field stepped violinist Joshua Bell, whose 2007 Sony recording of the “Seasons” with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields –- which anointed him as its music director in May –- was one of the better ones in recent years.  

But something happened to Bell’s “Four Seasons” on the way from the London recording studio to his Hollywood Bowl performance with a delegation of Los Angeles Philharmonic strings under his direction Tuesday night.  It has become more precious, more sentimental, more fevered, more mannered.  Here and there, Bell’s line was disrupted with the odd glide, the pulled-about phrase, the underlining of the obvious.

This is not news for Bell watchers who have noticed that he tends to overdo the musical indulgences and physical theatrics when he addresses the vast spaces of this giant amphitheatre.  Yet Bell did come up with a useful Bowl-friendly idea –- projecting the highly-descriptive texts that came with the “Seasons” on the Bowl’s video screens more-or-less in sync with what the music was saying.

After intermission, Bell’s bow gave way to the baton of Perry So –- a former Dudamel Conducting Fellow with the L.A. Phil and now associate conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. So did a decent job with Tchaikovsky’s still-lovable Serenade for Strings -– getting a ripe, clear, cohesive string sound (an improvement over the Vivaldi), and eliciting adequate charm and sway in the famous Waltz and a muted level of electricity in the outer movements.

On Tuesday night, 8,086 listeners took it in.


Classical music waltzes with digital media

The Sunday Conversation: Joshua Bell brings classical music to the masses

-– Richard S. Ginell

Los Angeles Philharmonic with Joshua Bell and Perry So; Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood; 8 p.m. Thursday; $1-$130; (323) 850-2000 or

Photo: Joshua Bell in his New York apartment. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman/For The Times