In a recent published statement a local air-traffic official claimed that the
unusual amount of intrusion by planes and helicopters over the Hollywood Bowl
was due to an exceptional amount of overcast this summer and the
consequent rerouting of landing patterns. Well, the skies were crystal-clear
on Thursday night — over the Bowl, and over Van Nuys, Burbank and Santa
Monica airports as well. Did it make any difference? Is the moon made of green
cheese? Four planes came over the Bowl during the first half of the concert,
interfering with large stretches of Beethoven’s fourth Piano Concerto (the
evening’s quietest music). Suspicions arise that the official regard, in high
places, for the quality of Bowl concerts is largely doubletalk. If nobody up
there is concerned, there was concern and annoyance on many faces among the
10,306 concertgoers. At least the Prokofiev Fifth Symphony, the last work on Simon Rattle’s program
with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, came through unscathed, probably because
small airports shut down after a certain hour. Any doubts about the young
Briton’s emergence as one of the spellbinding conductors of our time could be
set aside after this performance. Unlike some conductors not worth naming,
Rattle chose to explore the symphony rather than to hack at it. The beauty of the performance lay in the richness of its orchestral detail,
the clarity with which, for example, the solo strands of wind and string tone
twined around each other in the expansive, haunting slow movement. We’ve heard
the symphony more than once, to put it mildly, in this Prokofiev anniversary
year; it took Simon Rattle to reveal what the work is really about. Some doubts, in all frankness, had emerged about Rattle’s omnipotence in his
Beethoven Ninth on Tuesday night. Beethoven brought out some curious responses
this time as well. The evening’s soloist, the 20-year-old German keyboard whiz
Lars Vogt in his American debut, went after Beethoven’s marvelous lyric
patterns in a manner full of self-indulgence, a smart-aleck approach in which
much of Beethoven’s eloquent, subtle rhetoric got blown up into empty oratory.
This seemed to be the conductor’s way as well; the long invocation for
orchestra alone was fussed with, touched up with tempo changes that only
served to underline what was already obvious in the score. For starters Rattle and the orchestra got through Beethoven’s “Consecration of
the House” Overture in fine style. This is a work, after all, where a certain
amount of oversized oratory harmonizes with the composer’s plan. That’s what
it got this time.