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MUSIC REVIEW : Bell, Isserlis Double the Pleasure at Hollywood Bowl


It was a nice routine night, for a while at least, at Hollywood Bowl.

Hermann Michael, a respected German Kapellmeister (the term need not be pejorative), returned on Tuesday after a three-year absence to take his place in the passing parade of guest-conductors. The program concentrated on great warhorses from the Germanic-romantic warehouse.

After a mild and mannerly "Star-Spangled Banner" (is this ongoing patriotic ritual really de rigueur ?), Michael turned his enlightened attentions to Schubert. He kept things moving swiftly and gracefully in the "Rosamunde" Overture. He sustained the forward momentum agreeably and applied the sentiment sparingly in the "Unfinished" Symphony.

In the overfamiliar platitudes of the latter, he even managed to sustain interest with a few unexpected touches--a tense elongation, for instance, of the chord that prepares the entrance of everyone's favorite hum-along tune. The maestro from Stuttgart offered no flash and few revelations. Nevertheless, he capitalized on good sense and good taste.

Then, after intermission, came the Brahms Double Concerto, and virtually everything changed. The dutiful became beautiful. Poise was enhanced by passion.

The passion emanated from an exceptionally well-matched pair of soloists: the 26-year-old American violinist Joshua Bell, whose talent is familiar to Bowl audiences, and the 34-year-old British cellist Steven Isserlis, who was making his L.A. Philharmonic debut.

Bell once again performed with dazzling verve that precluded neither sweetness of tone nor accuracy under pressure. Isserlis--whose grandfather was the celebrated Russian pianist and composer, Julius Isserlis--looked a bit wild and woolly, his physical responses to the musical impulses tending toward the overwrought. But there was nothing excessive in his playing.

The two virtuosos matched each other sensitively, nuance for nuance, stress for stress. Their lean yet vibrant, essentially elegant collaboration brought new compulsion to Brahms' expressive indulgences. Michael and the orchestra provided sympathetic orchestral support.

Incidental intelligence:

* Only ( only ?) five planes provided grinding aeronautical ostinatos, most of them, of course, during pianissimo passages.

* The audience was officially tabulated at 9,608. To some seasoned skeptics, the tabulation looked a bit generous.

* Everyone on both sides of the proscenium seemed happy, despite some unseasonal chill. The atmospheric conditions may have caused some unaccustomed intonation problems, however, for the wind players.

* The concertmaster's chair was manned, with authoritative distinction, by Mark Baranov. He happens to be fourth in the chain of first-desk command, following Sidney Weiss, Alexander Treger and Irving Geller.

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