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MUSIC REVIEW : Mehli Mehta & Friends Offer Benefit Gala

February 16, 1988|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music Critic

The fund-raising concert was preceded by a vapid welcoming speech and, perhaps most important, followed by a fancy din-din.

The dressy audience destroyed the mood of at least one piece with grotesquely premature applause. The ad-ridden printed program was fat and amateurish. The orchestral playing varied from spiffy to clumsy.

Still, Mehli Mehta and his American Youth Symphony put on a terrific show for their 19th annual gala benefit Sunday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

They opened the lightweight festivities with "L'apprenti sorcier" of Paul Dukas, identified in the program as "Duaks." One may have missed Mickey Mouse dancing with the brooms and the water buckets ("Fantasia" has seared the communal brain!). One may have regretted the absence of subtle orchestral detail and dramatic crescendo. There was no underestimating the splashy fervor and unbridled enthusiasm whipped up by Mehta, however, or the technical bravura exhibited by his charges.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 17, 1988 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 7 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
In the photo caption accompanying a review of the American Youth Symphony (AYS) Tuesday, the orchestra was inadvertently confused with that of the Young Musicians Foundation (YMF).

The undisputed star of the evening turned out to be Thomas Hampson, a young American baritone obviously on the brink of a stratospheric career. He is indecently gifted--tall, slender, handsome, intelligent, elegant, naturally expressive and the consummate master of a healthy, pliant, wide-ranging lyric baritone.

He knows how to illuminate an opera text for a mass audience (even when the program doesn't even bother to translate the title). And he can float the most insinuating pianissimo tones this side of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Mehta and the inexperienced orchestra could not provide him with particularly idiomatic support. Among other problems, the accompaniment tended to be so loud that Hampson sometimes was forced to strain for impact in the high climaxes.

Nevertheless, he sang the brindisi from Thomas' "Hamlet" with uncommon poise and brio. He luxuriated in the sensuality of "Vision fugitive" from Massenet's "Herodiade" and exulted in the gentle yearning of "Pierrots Tanzlied" from "Die Tote Stadt." One wonders if anyone, from Richard Mayr to Hermann Prey, has sung the languid Korngold aria more beautifully.

Finally, Hampson dispatched Rossini's "Largo al factotum" in a blaze of wide-eyed barberic bravado. For a much-wanted encore, he added a passionate, arching account of Leoncavallo's "Zaza, piccola zingara."

After all this, the fragile whimsy of Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" threatened to seem anticlimactic. But Burt Lancaster read Ogden Nash's silly rhymes with wry, poker-faced point. Jean Barr and Armen Guzelimian played the twin pianos with cheeky pizazz. The American Youths provided deft orchestral comment, and Mehta directed the quaint anthropomorphic proceedings with speedy grace.

It was fun.

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