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Music review: Bramwell Tovey and Joyce Yang with the L.A. Phil

September 9, 2011 |  2:00 pm

Bramwell Tovey
Who knew that in a program of war horses at the Hollywood Bowl the standout work would be Gounod’s Ballet Music from “Faust”? On Thursday night, guest conductor Bramwell Tovey and the Los Angeles Philharmonic offered committed renditions of Berlioz’s "Roman Carnival" Overture, Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2, with Joyce Yang as soloist, and Respighi’s evergreen “Pines of Rome.” But it was the Gounod that fascinated.

Tovey told the audience of 5,672 that L.A. Phil musicians were surprised during the performance's rehearsal how many familiar tunes constitute Gounod’s suite. It was last performed by the orchestra at the Bowl in 1977, with Mitch Miller conducting.

“I apologize for repeating it so soon,” Tovey cracked, “but these pieces are so charming and delightful, they are worth repeating every 34 years.” Tovey and the Philharmonic gave a buoyant lilt to each of the seven sections, concluding with a vital Danse du Phryné.

Yang performed the concerto with compelling virtuosity and sensitivity. She was attuned to the score’s mock-operatic seriousness while also conveying the glitter and Mendelssohnian delicacy of the popular Scherzo. In 2009, she gave an account of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Bowl, her tone overly bright and thin. This time, the pianist’s tone was rich and full. She seemed to be having fun dispatching the athletic and demanding virtuoso passages, especially in the score’s Presto finale, a whirling tarantella dance. Tovey and the Philharmonic proved equal partners.

Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” was given an atmospheric and rousing performance. It’s hard to go wrong with a work that concludes with a triumphant march. Memorable contributions included Donald Green on trumpet and Michele Zukovsky on clarinet.

Tovey next leads the Philharmonic in a Tchaikovsky Spectacular with Fireworks on Friday, repeated Saturday night, and ends his stint here on Tuesday with a refreshingly anti-war-horse program of Bernstein’s "Chichester Psalms" and Mozart’s Requiem.


The man behind the band at USC

-- Rick Schultz

Photo: A September 2010 photo of Bramwell Tovey conducting at the Hollywood Bowl. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times