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San Diego Symphony At The Bowl

August 25, 1986|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

The San Diego Symphony was the orchestra, David Atherton the conductor and John Lill the pianist at the annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular in the Hollywood Bowl, over the weekend. Although all three were making Bowl debuts, not a lot was new in this 18th edition of the traditional music-and-fireworks program.

Near-capacity crowds--counted at 17,770 Friday night and 17,796 Saturday--again attended the yearly ritual. Three-quarters of the program might have been predicted. And the climactic part of the proceedings again proved to be the nonmusical elements in a performance of the composer's "1812 Overture," at the end of the evening.

Tchaikovsky's "The Tempest," second and least-known of his three Shakespearean fantasies, and created in 1873, served as the novelty of this program. Unjustly neglected, the work suffers only in comparison to the more characterful symphonic works this uneven composer wrote later. At the Bowl, and the amplification system on good behavior, it enjoyed a fair and straightforward reading from the San Diego forces.

On Friday, those forces showed themselves, here and elsewhere in this exposing program to be strong of resource but sometimes foursquare in execution. In the familiar "Nutcracker" suite for instance, the issues of style and danceability were never raised, for each separate movement bogged down in a heavy-handed evenness and regularity, a flattening out of the basic musical impulse.

Heard in August (as opposed to the yuletide season), "The Nutcracker" can sound charming. This reading, numbing in its literalness and inertia, produced only indifference.

Still, there was a redeeming feature in the contributions of soloists from within the orchestra. Among others, clarinetist David Peck ought to be singled out. In the "Nutcracker" excerpts, "Tempest," and "1812," most solo lines were realized in superior performances.

In the First Piano Concerto, Lill, Atherton and the orchestra created an effete, rather than a heroic, performance. A lack of projection and cohesion kept this most motivated of concertos from achieving its momentum. From the very beginning, at the entrance of the solo piano, backward-looking tempos, choppy phrasing and spastic rubatos held the forward motion of the work in check.

Lill, who remains a technical paragon, clearly did not lead the way. He dawdled; he retreated when he ought to have attacked; he lost linearity in caressing certain details. For all his strength and fluency, Lill does not command at the keyboard; rather, he goes about his business with efficiency but little compulsion. The aural results confirm the visual impression of flabby musical thinking.

Atherton, for his part, did not save the day. He seemed to follow the apparent prevailing aesthetic in an uncommitted and fragmented reading. The orchestra followed suit. What else could it do?

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