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MUSIC REVIEW : Glennie's Fresh, Stimulating Program

July 24, 1992|JOHN HENKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was definitely not your usual Virtuoso Series recital, Wednesday at Hollywood Bowl, although it was certainly virtuosic. Evelyn Glennie, the hearing-impaired Scottish percussion evangelist who made her Bowl debut on the Fireworks Finale last summer, returned with one of the freshest, most stimulating Bowl programs in recent memory.

Note, however, that this will be a minority report. With neither napping nor humming along a viable prospect and little name recognition for the performers, the event drew only 5,657 listeners, and many of them fled at intermission. Those numbers don't push the crowd much beyond the boxes filled on subscription, and won't encourage future experimentation at the conservative venue.

Although Glennie is an engaging and direct stage personality, shoelessly prowling a stage full of things to hit and introducing her music with candor and humor, her varied and surprisingly substantial repertory offered few consolations for the timid. She began with Chopin's Etude in C-sharp minor from Opus 10 and ended in encore with a Joplin rag, but that was it for transcriptions.

Those pieces did showcase her dexterity and musicality on the marimba, Glennie's main instrument on this occasion. The speed and clarity of her mallet-work is impressive, but more important is her subtle control of accent, dynamics and texture.

Her stylish, supportive accompanist was pianist Philip Smith, who also backed her in Ney Rosauro's Marimba Concerto, a mercurial, four-movement extrapolation from Brazilian traditions delivered with caressive verve.

Glennie's unaccompanied marimba solos were Paul Smadbeck's haunting, post-minimal "Rhythm Song"--the title track for her first CD--Keiko Abe's moody "Variations on Japanese Children's Songs" and her own "Light in Darkness," an etude in fluttering chords. In all she defined structure and texture with sensitive flair.

Although the marimba dominated her agenda, Glennie confessed a strong and admittedly unlikely affection for the snare drum. "Prim," an oppressive solo exercise in counting by Icelandic composer Askell Masson, is probably not going to extend that affection widely, and sorely tried the Bowl sound system.

The music of South African Kevin Volans has been championed here frequently by the Kronos Quartet, and his whimsical "She Who Sleeps With a Small Blanket" made a strong vehicle for drums and marimba.

It also displayed Glennie's interest in music as abstract theater, an element that came to the fore in "The Song of Dionysius" by John McLeod. Composed for Glennie and Smith, the piece reversed their roles at beginning and end, with Glennie playing the piano and Smith striking rocks together. In between, it tweaked a variety of percussion cliches, rumbled portentously and provided Glennie with difficult opportunities across a generous, colorful battery.

The percussionist played it all with power and grace, from memory as she did everything. Not all of McLeod's effects could be appreciated at the Bowl, but the cumulative impact proved greater than any failings of its parts.

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