Hollywood Bowl

It was a strange evening of contrasts, but at least — on Tuesday night, six performances into the summer schedule — Hollywood Bowl finally achieved its official opening concert. Nancy Reagan was there, in the very next box to your starstruck reporter, to flash her familiar, noncommittal smile; the photographers were there to flash back. Mikhail Gorbachev wasn’t there, but he might have felt right at home as Soviet conductor Yuri Temirkhanov, with a mighty sweep of his right arm, started things off by galvanizing the Los Angeles Philharmonic into a larger-than-life version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The new international benevolence, as I was saying, breeds strange contrasts.
Travel demands had obliged me to miss Temirkhanov’s stint here last season. He’s now becoming known in the West, but is apparently happily rooted as the Leningrad Philharmonic’s chief conductor, the Soviet Union’s top job. I like him and so, apparently, does most of the Philharmonic. Tall and handsome, not afraid of invoking a little body english to underscore points of interpretation, he got some bright, alert playing out of the orchestra in a program that may have been routine but was anything but self-performing: Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture and the Fourth Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
(Is it my imagination, by the way, or does the newly corrected sound system at the Bowl bring out a sheen in the string tone at least as clear, perhaps even more so, than the unmiked sound at the Music Center? I noticed the improvement during last weekend’s Mozart concerts, where it could have been the result of using a smaller orchestra. But I also noticed it with the full band on Tuesday.)
Temirkhanov’s slam-bang assault on the Tchaikovsky Fourth was concocted out of extremes — of dynamics, and also of grandiose, dizzying speed-ups and changes of tempo. This is, to be sure, one legitimate way of getting all the juice out of this juicy old warhorse; if you know your Mengelberg recordings, you know how this approach can work. Kurt Sanderling’s more straightforward reading, which lit lights at the Music Center earlier this year, may have dealt more honorably with the score’s brimming rhetoric, however. Both performances had the special advantage of Loren Levee’s marvelously plangent clarinet in the work’s many solo passages.
Did someone mention glasnost? Yes, there was Vladimir Feltsman, who had last appeared with Temirkhanov, back in the U.S.S.R., all of 15 years ago, now a New Yorker by residence and inclination. Feltsman played the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto; the teamwork between him and the conductor was immaculate, the interpretation somewhat puzzling.
The opening piano solo — slow, quiet, meditative — raised expectations for one kind of performance, but gave no hint of the brusque, rather brittle reading¬† that actually ensued. There were superior moments here and there — some beautiful,¬† quiet poetry in the interchange between soloist and orchestra in the slow movement, and a fair amount of charm in the finale — but they weren’t consistent with the soloist’s over-all view of the work. A couple of blurred runs aside, Feltsman played the piano very well; he played Beethoven’s wondrous concerto slightly less well, however.