Making an American debut with one's sound amplified and distorted as it bounces around the wide, open, distraction-filled spaces of Hollywood Bowl can't be easy for any pianist.
Doing so at the still-dewy age of 24 must make the prospect even more daunting. Doing so with the romantic rigors of the Rachmaninoff First Concerto must make the precarious plot thicken further.
And doing all of the above when one is blessed--or is it cursed?--with one of the most prestigious names in contemporary pianism must be enough to make any strong musician weak.
Vovka Ashkenazy, son of Vladimir, got over the obvious hurdles Thursday night without a fumble or a stumble. That alone is something of an achievement.
He played with nice, seemingly calm authority. He revealed a solid technique, an efficient grasp of the inherent architectural sprawl, a potentially becoming sense of restraint.
He survived the trial by fire of the opening movement with only a few--pardonably few--visits to the cracks between the keys. He surveyed the lyricism of the Andante without resorting to gush--without even hinting at the possibility, in fact. He approached the smash-bang finale with decent energy.
What he didn't do, unfortunately, was tell us anything interesting, anything new, anything poignant or anything personal about the concerto. For the most part, he contented himself with music-making that tended toward the mechanical. He suffered no indulgences, took no chances, kept the temperature cool.
But there is time.
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who had opened the program with a brisk and graceful performance of Berlioz's "Roman Carnival," provided attentive support for the young soloist. After intermission, they sensitively defined the mist and the splash in both of Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe" suites.
Despite the sophisticated music-making, this seemed a bit much of a bland thing.