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Israel Philharmonic : Mehta Conducts Bruckner At Bowl

August 23, 1986|ALBERT GOLDBERG

The music of Anton Bruckner rarely turns up at Hollywood Bowl--for numerous and varied reasons.

Previous to the Symphony No. 8 played on Thursday, Bruckner's name had appeared on Bowl programs only once before, on Aug. 22, 1974. The symphony was the same on that occasion, as was the conductor, Zubin Mehta. The orchestra then was the Los Angeles Philharmonic; this time it was the Israel Philharmonic, concluding its stint of three concerts at the Bowl.

It was a brave and risky venture, for easy popularity is not to be won by Bruckner's Eighth under any circumstances. It is inhumanly long--Mehta's playing time ran to 71 minutes--and it demands superhuman concentration and endurance from performers and audience. The players survived the ordeal in total splendor. The audience did not do as well: Quite a few quitters tippy-toed out in the breaks between movements.

Artistically, it was a triumph for Mehta and the Israelis. Mehta conducted with massive authority and deep involvement. He counteracted Bruckner's lack of true melodic inspiration by imparting a sort of intense poignance to the thematic material. He had the sprawling form under such strict but never rigid control that the longueurs seemed mitigated. He gave Bruckner time to breathe.

Mehta let the towering climaxes develop naturally, with proper preparation and no forcing. He benignly coddled Bruckner's puzzling habit of dropping from full orchestra to a handful of players. Above all, he conveyed a deep and affectionate regard for a sometimes baffling masterpiece.

The orchestra played with the comfort and security that comes from unquestioning confidence in its leadership and with complete familiarity with the music. The ensemble was fluid and flexible; the strings soared, the woodwinds articulated clearly, the huge brass section managed to be both mellow and apocalyptic. There was enough glory for everyone, but the response from what remained of the audience of 11,785 seemed apathetic.

The Bruckner inevitably monopolized the evening, but that did not diminish the 14-karat quality of Shlomo Mintz's playing of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 at its beginning.

Here was Mozart of uncanny purity, etherealized but not dehumanized. The phrasing was exquisite, the tone velvet but never syrupy, the intonation close to perfection. Mehta's accompaniment backed the soloist in easy tandem.

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