Labeques Bowl

Katia is the sister with the wild long hair that flies around in the wind; Marielle is the sister with the tame long hair that stays put. Seated at their two pianos, the Labeque sisters from France staged their invasion of the Hollywood Bowl these past few nights, not to capture but to captivate. On Friday and Saturday they were the decorative centerpiece in the Bastille Day programs — before a combined crowd of, would you believe, 34,000 delighted believers, over a dozen Dorothy Chandler Pavilionsful. Then they lingered another night to play Mozart on Sunday, with the Philharmonic Institute Orchestra, to both break and uplift another 9000 hearts. Vive les Francaises!
The French-program offering was Saint-Saens’ evergreen “Carnival of the Animals,” that strange neither-fish-nor-fowl entertainment that often suffers more than its deserved share of indignities. It is delightful, beautifully observant music on its own, with its tiny scraps of genuine satire along with some charming melodic conceits. Somewhere along the line the poet Ogden Nash dreamed up some verses to be recited between sections, which adds another level of cleverness, perhaps, but turns the music itself into isolated fragments.
Nevertheless, the practice continues, and this time there was a new set of verses by Stephanie Fleischmann, of distinguished local cultural lineage, read by Alice Jankell. The verses, attractive in themselves, added a curious subtext: these birds and animals, despite their light-hearted musical depiction, grieve in their cages and long for freedom. Jankell’s ponderous, sarcasm-tinged readings added further unneeded weight. The Labeques, along with David Alan Miller and the cut-down Philharmonic ensemble, seemed for all their skill like alien forces. Cellist Daniel Rothmuller’s Swan did, however, swim swimmingly.
On Sunday the sisters discoursed on Mozart’s airborne Two-Piano Concerto with charm, and with a few apposite graces of their own in the form of added embellishments to the musical line when such-and-such a tune made a return. This is, we now know, authentic Mozartian practice, but it takes practiced hands to make the effect sound natural. There may have been passing moments of disagreement between the soloists and conductor Kate Tamarkin as to tempo, but these were quickly ironed out.
Otherwise? Well, otherwise there was some bright orchestral celebrations from Miller and the orchestra on the French program, best of all in a mettlesome dash through some of the “Gaite Parisienne” music which, for all its dolled-up reorchestration, had the proper Offenbach accent lacking in certain other recent events. At the end Jonathan Mack, Jennifer Trost and a group from the Master Chorale joined in the Berlioz version of “La Marseillaise” — stanza after stanza after stanza: a well-versed performance, you might say. Sunday’s Institute program started off with a bang up Strauss “Don Juan” led by the excellent young Keith Lockhart.
At the end of both programs there were fireworks: literally during “La Marseillaise” (and, as always, gloriously imaginative, with even a working guillotine among the effects), musically at the end of Sunday’s program, as Yuri Temirkhanov guided the young orchestra through some astounding virtuosic turns in the Shostakovich Sixth Symphony.
This was, simply put, one of the best performances of {ITAL anything {ENDITAL in my Bowl-going experience: a broad, tense unfolding of the rhetoric of that mysterious first movement, much of it hovering at the edge of silence (and, thus, unfortunate prey for passing air traffic); a garrulous, daredevil but beautifully controlled dash through the wildly humorous scherzo and finale. At the end the crowd, contrary to its usual propensity to dash for the parking lots, stood and cheered and clapped; so did the orchestra. It was that kind of a night.