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MUSIC REVIEW : More Volume Than Finesse at the Bowl


Versatility and mellowness, those double ideals of symphonic practice, can be found in all the world's great orchestras. Neither quality precludes the other, and related virtues--brilliance, technique, precision, among others--play corroborative roles in defining the stature of any particular ensemble.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), a steady if not frequent visitor to Los Angeles since its first appearance here in 1951, excels in many areas. Mellowness is not one of them.

Consider the orchestra's Wednesday night concert at Hollywood Bowl, a program of standard, even beloved, works by Brahms, Sibelius, Leonard Bernstein and Ravel. Under the solid leadership of the IPO's longtime music director, Zubin Mehta, the performance of this program revealed again the ensemble's admirable resources, its strong solo voices and its obvious devotion to its permanent conductor.

As far as they went, these readings succeeded. In the overall, however, they emerged reliable but superficial, heavy on loudness, short on finesse and, in terms of tone-quality, ever on the brink of raucousness.

Indeed, this otherwise pleasant musical evening--heard by an audience counted by management at 11,073--seemed, time and again, a dialogue between the Bowl shell and the hillside, with symphonic sounds bouncing back and forth between them. Musical sounds, largely; metallic sounds, often.

The orchestra's many accomplishments cannot be denigrated. Even so, there seems to be a hole in the middle of its dynamic range, halfway between its overbearing fortissimo and its sometimes weak pianissimo --the speaking part of any instrument's voice.

Interpretively, Mehta gave a characteristically even performance. At the beginning, his Brahms, the "Haydn" Variations, moved along, its gleaming surface untroubled by the real subtext below. At the end, Ravel's "La Valse" had a certain attractive authority and imperiousness, but only small amounts of the Gallic lilt and charm one anticipates here.

Two splendid female soloists brought a tight focus to the middle part of the program.

Midori, now 21, played the Violin Concerto of Sibelius with all the passion, authority, ease and penetrating detail one has come to expect of all her performances. She has conquered this musical mountain with the deceptive insouciance of her many public conquests in this long decade of her early career; no longer a budding artist, she now competes with historical models. Not surprisingly, she often wins.

Except for some quiet places that approached inaudibility, the collaboration of Mehta and the orchestra proved cherishable.

In place of a recent, or novel, or avant-garde work of Israeli origin, this program offered instead a 51-year-old piece, Leonard Bernstein's gorgeous but old-fashioned, Old-Testament-texted Symphony No. 1, subtitled "Jeremiah." The piece was performed to mark the 75th anniversary of the late American composer's birth.

In Florence Quivar, Mehta provided a mezzo-soprano soloist of solid accomplishment and handsome tone-projection, if often unclear word-enunciation. The conductor and his colleagues added to this performance a genuine enthusiasm, using their many resources cannily.

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