It was one of those glorious nights under the stars at Hollywood Bowl.
The subtlest, most exposed cadenza passages of Mozart's D-Major Piano Concerto, K. 451, attracted ferocious aeronautical ostinatos on Tuesday. Where, one wondered, were the warning beacons of yesterseason?
The most delicate reverie of the "Symphonie Fantastique" was turned into a \o7 duetto buffo\f7 between the strings shimmering in the shell and a recalcitrant motor bike revving up in the parking lot. Berlioz created some astonishing contrapuntal effects, but this was sublime.
As a prelude to the first portentous entry of the "Dies Irae" motive, someone managed to introduce the penetrating soprano wail of a car alarm. The Witches' Sabbath was never like this.
Throughout much of the concert, the World Cup wine-bottle-bouncing contest was held on the concrete steps. The competitive virtuosity was stirring.
And in the midst of all this subtle provocation, two unflappable musicians sustained sensitivity, even elegance, with the ever-attentive Los Angeles Philharmonic. The hero medals go to Rudolf Firkusny and Sylvain Cambreling.
At 81, Firkusny is a\o7 grand seigneur \f7 among pianists. More poet than firebrand, he must be one of the last of a vanishing breed, and he remains one of the best. Celebrating the 35th anniversary of his Bowl debut, he played, as always, with warmth, with illuminating taste and refreshing simplicity.
His still supple technique permitted him to dash without frenzy through the outer allegros. Every nuance was in its place. Even more memorable, however, were the lyrical poise, the shaded charm and the cantabile flow with which he ennobled the andante.
Firkusny managed, somehow, to make the vast amphitheater a reasonable showplace for intimate impulses. An audience of 9,778 responded with the rare compliment of rapt, silent attention, even between the movements.
Cambreling, who had opened the program with a rather stately, fine-grained performance of Mozart's "Paris" Symphony, provided suitably transparent, even-textured accompaniment. He obviously savors the style.
After intermission, the mild-mannered Mozartean did not exactly turn into a Berlioz superman. The 45-year-old maestro from Amiens did remind us, however, that only 46 years separated the gentle Mozart concerto (1784) and the wild Berlioz symphony (1830). He approached the romantic sprawl with the same concern for coherence and grace that he had brought to the classical challenges. In the process, he made the eventual outbursts of grotesquerie all the more striking.
Cambreling's relatively small-scale, introspective "Symphonie" is certainly less fantastic than the pull-out-all-stops interpretation favored by his brooding, gut-thumping rivals. But the restrained approach makes good sense on its own analytical, essentially Gallic terms.
Finesse has its place, even in Berlioz. Especially in Berlioz.
Now, about that helicopter. . . .