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MUSIC REVIEWS : Mauceri Conducts 25th Tchaikovsky Spectacular


Not much was new at the 25th annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular at Hollywood Bowl over the weekend, except that the popular music-and-fireworks program this year was given three times instead of two. Otherwise, repertory, performances, fireworks show and capacity crowds seemed predictable. Again.

Friday night, for instance, when the mammoth amphitheater held the most bodies it can accommodate--17,979, as counted by management (and counted the same, Saturday)--smooth and mostly uneventful playing from the accomplished Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, led by its founder, John Mauceri, could not surprise.

In any case, that playing should have delighted both connoisseurs and novices among admirers of the composer, the 100th anniversary of whose death is being observed in 1993. Mauceri knows his way around this familiar but demanding music and keeps a tight rein on his strong instrumentalists.

If the musical agenda held no novelties, it seemed almost startling to hear the Trepak from the "Nutcracker" Ballet in mid-August--"Only 133 more shopping days till Christmas," Mauceri reminded his listeners. Less jolting, if no less satisfying, were the surrounding excerpts from "Sleeping Beauty" and the entire "Romeo and Juliet" Overture-Fantasy.

The single new element in this 25th edition was the debutant soloist in the Violin Concerto, a 27-year-old American musician from Connecticut, Kurt Nikkanen. A former student of Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School in New York, Nikkanen demonstrated considerable aplomb, unfazeable technique and what seemed to be a smallish, tightly focused tone, in this most exposing test-piece.

He called attention to his own individuality through some odd spurts of stop-and-go in the development section of the first movement, causing one listener to wonder their cause: timidity, over-articulation or just plain musical perversity? Otherwise, and except for a sober and unpoignant reading of the slow movement, his performance seemed standard conservatory-issue. Mauceri and the Bowl Orchestra proved ever-accommodating accompanists.

The real and genuine fireworks, of course, came at the end of the evening, in the closing minutes of the "1812" Overture.

They lit up the skies around Cahuenga Pass, made scary noises and seemed to give thrills and chills to the assembled music-lovers. Their production was credited in the program book to "Pyro-Spectaculars, Gene Evans, Consultant."

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