The critical curmudgeon didn't approach Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday with any special enthusiasm.
Previous encounters with Ivan Fischer, the 36-year-old guest conductor from Hungary, had led one to expect competence rather than brilliance. Stephen Hough, the 26-year-old soloist from England, was, one feared, just another member of a sprawling new generation of musicians generally regarded as "promising."
The program--a please-the-masses assemblage of Schubert, Prokofiev and Dvorak--seemed, to say the least, deja-entendu .
Then there was the daunting matter of the Bowl itself. The gargantuan amplification apparatus has been recalcitrant lately. The aeronautical intrusions have been vexing. The audiences have been rowdy.
The curmudgeon trudged up the hill with ho-hum in his heart.
But, for once, the gods smiled. This turned out to be a lovely concert. The hills were alive with warmth and refinement.
For starters, Fischer brought the advantages of freshness and restraint to the amiable platitudes of the Schubert "Unfinished" Symphony. He sustained rare lyrical grace and paid compelling attention to details of light and shade.
He managed to avoid any threat of expressive excess throughout. And, despite some rough edges and intonation problems, he inspired alert responses from the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Comparable mellowness and clarity benefited the Dvorak 8th after intermission. Fischer eased into the cantabile charms of the Adagio with gentle eloquence and point, keeping the dramatic contrasts within tasteful bounds. In the final pages of the final Allegro, he mustered climactic impact without stooping to bombast.
In the program centerpiece, Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3, conductor and pianist agreed to stress taut elegance where others settle for thunderous vulgarity. They toned down some of the inherent grotesquerie in the process, but ennobled the potentially-sentimental indulgences.
Hough breezed through the bravura passages jauntily, nonchalantly, with poise and panache. He traced the jagged lines with nice, quirky suavity. Blissfully undaunted by Prokofiev's unreasonable demands for speed and power, he capitalized on precision, stamina and a fine sense of drama.
The tinny, treble-dominated sound system proved hospitable on this occasion (everything is relative). The skies were reasonably quiet, and, miracle of miracles, so was the audience of 6,629. It was so quiet, in fact, that one could have heard a bottle drop between movements.