A Beethoven concert is hardly a rarity at Hollywood Bowl. Any given summer will find at least one of its kind, sometimes even as part of a gimmicky fireworks extravaganza. But the fates smiled Tuesday on Beethoven and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
There were no smoking cannons this time, and the agenda--the "Egmont" Overture, the Piano Concerto No. 3 with John Browning and the "Eroica" Symphony--was standard fare. Nevertheless, something extraordinary happened, thanks to the guest on the podium: Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.
They can't exactly be plucked from the vine, these few existing conductors who both grasp and communicate the marvels of Beethoven. The Polish-born maestro, however, stands among them.
From the opening bars of the overture, Skrowaczewski proved that he is no time-beater, no compulsive detail man who deals with single issues only in sequence. Perhaps, because he is himself a composer was he able to chisel a granitic tragedy from these rumbling, multilayered depths.
But it was not until the evening's major event, the "Eroica," that one could fully understand all of Skrowaczewski's gifts. Here is a musician who really can clarify structure, convey philosophic content and savor expressive meaning.
With his arms shaking and throbbing, he urged the Philharmonic along a bold, muscular, even driven path--one that bespeaks Beethoven, but not one that deals superficially with the rough terrain. At the same time he was mindful of the lyric motifs that lighten the landscape. Even the funeral march had a buoyancy countering its weighty, somber chords.
Overall, this was an "Eroica" of great rhythmic fluidity and dynamic shape, one emboldened by head-turning accents that were compellingly organic.
What Skrowaczewski seems to care less about, in context, are matters of technique and sonics. So, while the Philharmonic played with fiery intensity, it did not always produce the most polished sound. If he had to choose between excitement and suavity, however, the podium guest made the right choice.
Browning, on the other hand, seemed to have little choice regarding the tinny noises emitted by his amplified instrument. Yet he managed to coax pearly runs and luxuriant trills from the keyboard. Unfortunately, he allowed the Largo, lacking a pulse, to nearly fall apart, and Skrowaczewski, wrongly compliant, gave him his disastrously moony head.
Otherwise, the pianist came alive for the cadenzas but glided over a number of passages without making them seem more than notes.
A crowd of 11,618 seemed entirely appreciative--both of the exceptional and the ordinary.