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Music Review : Williams & Friends: Odd Mix at Bowl : Conductor's Souffle: Add a Little Perlman, a Dash of Ronstadt, a Hint of E.T

July 14, 1994|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

World Cup Week at Hollywood Bowl continued its pretentious and circuitous course on Tuesday with the unsettling combination of two dissimilar pops concerts in one glitzy package.

Before intermission, a stoic John Williams showed his classical affinities (everything is relative) by waving the Los Angeles Philharmonic through a familiar Glinka overture and some Tchaikovsky goo: the hum-along violin concerto with Itzhak Perlman as stellar soloist. Then, for a would-be piece de resistance , the fiddler returned in a couple of excerpts from the maestro's score for the film "Schindler's List."

So much for high art.

After intermission came a fancy fanfare by Williams, an unscheduled medley of tunes from Disney films, a half hour of Linda Ronstadt in classy-chantoozie ballads arranged by Nelson Riddle, and--just before the clock struck 11 and overtime-costs loomed--a sweet suite from another great cinematic hit by Williams.

So much for easy listening.

The whole, in this instance, equaled less than the parts. Williams presided with speedy, unobtrusive efficiency over an amazingly proficient, minimally rehearsed Philharmonic in the so-called classical numbers. The more the repertory turned slurpy, the more animated and the more assertive he became. Interpretive conviction seemed to increase in inverse relation to musical quality.

The programming may have lacked consistency of focus. That's the understatement of the week. But the performances were never less than smooth.

Smooth? Make that slick.

The "Russlan and Ludmilla" overture ticked along briskly, not brusquely. In the typographical error of the week, the pathetic program booklet called Glinka's opera " Russian and Ludmilla."

The Tchaikovsky concerto found Perlman playing with the virtuosic ease and silken tone for which he is famous, and with the emotional detachment for which he is infamous. At this point in his brilliant career, he could drive this vehicle in his sleep, and he occasionally appears to be doing just that.

The simple formulas and modal cliches from Williams' "Schindler" soundtrack--10 minutes in all--found Perlman reading the score, and reading eloquently. The well-made, fundamentally commercial music exerts a gentle elegiac appeal even if it trivializes the cataclysmic tragedy that it is intended to accompany.

*

The "fun" part of the evening, which didn't always find this reporter on terra cognita , began with Williams' brassy ode to "Liberty." According to the pathetic program booklet, the agenda was supposed to continue with a "Salute to MGM." Without explanation, Williams & friends substituted a set of syrupy concoctions from the Disney kitchen. A spokesman identified the arranger as one Ferguson, but couldn't provide his/her first name.

The exact nature of the vocal portion of the festivities remained something of a mystery to the uninitiated. The pathetic program booklet listed only these words: "Nelson Riddle arrangements for orchestra."

No titles. No composers. No authors.

A biographical blurb did tell us that Ronstadt is "both a gifted pure singer . . . and a versatile interpreter of songs and style."

Gifted? Certainly. A pure singer? Beats me. Versatile? Not on the basis of Tuesday's evidence, but she is remembered for pleasant crossover excursions as Puccini's Mimi and Gilbert & Sullivan's Mabel.

A stranger in her current paradise recognized "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "Am I Blue?" among the six languid songs offered. He also recognized "Happy Birthday, Dear Linda," with which some fans in the upper reaches serenaded the microphone diva. He also noted the obvious appeal of her suave and smoky timbre, the insinuating clarity of her diction, and the extraordinary strength of her breath control.

The pathetic program booklet labeled Williams' not-so-grand finale "Adventures on Earth." With the first maudlin measures it became clear, however, that "E.T." had come home.

*

Incidental intelligence:

* The Bowl's renovated amplification system worked best when it was turned up loudest. That isn't a compliment to the designing engineer.

* The hills were alive with the sound of airplanes. Eight in all. The most effective intrusions occurred during Perlman's fragile cadenzas.

* The official audience headcount reached 14,048. That's 13 more heads than were counted at the Van Cliburn demi-concert the night before.

* The top ticket price for Perlman and Ronstadt was $150. That's $100 less than for Cliburn.

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