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Music Review : Salonen Conducts Program of Beethoven, Shostakovich


Acoustical variables, attendance figures and speculation concerning their causes, plus frequency of aeronautical intrusions--these are the issues on which Hollywood Bowl regulars seem to focus more and more.

Esa-Pekka Salonen's second Los Angeles Philharmonic concert in his and the orchestra's four pre-European tour programs, Thursday night, raised other, more intriguing concerns, at least for one listener.

The less important data first:

* The 1994 sound system seemed to be working, and to be behaving, efficiently and with good fidelity. If there was too much loudness--e.g., a preponderance of forte and a lack of purposeful dynamic contrasts--in this three-composer program, blame the conductor. He seemed to be encouraging this level of sound.

* For this agenda of music by Billy Childs (his nearly three-minute "Fanfare for the United Races of America"), Beethoven ("Consecration of the House" Overture and Fifth Symphony) and Shostakovich (First Piano Concerto), a crowd of 14,179 passed through the turnstiles, as counted by the management.

* Fewer than a handful of aerial passersby--perhaps two, on the periphery of the skyscape--arrived to distract one's concentration on this climatically clear and listener-friendly Thursday night at Cahuenga Pass.

That said, one can report that the full and wonted impact of the two Beethoven works failed to materialize, despite playing from the orchestra of exceptional neatness and finesse.

The reason? Apparently, a lack of conductorial heat, urgency and focus. Tempos moved along, mechanical glitches were avoided. But that sense of continuity and inevitability that binds together genuinely integrated, deeply felt performances seldom appeared.

Wit and mordancy did enter the proceedings at their mid-point, when pianist Alexander Toradze and trumpeter Thomas Stevens became the principals in Shostakovich's lovable Concerto No. 1. Each of the soloists brought emotional nuance and faceted humors to his part, tossing off the technical challenges without effort, connecting to each other and to the string orchestra and conductor. Thus, they made the work's detailed musical scenario pungent and mellow, poignant and brittle by turns.

Childs' bright, sometimes harmonically lugubrious fanfare, which opened the program, recalled the musical atmosphere of B-movies of the 1930s, a witty and gripping evocation that seems to set the Los Angeles native, 37 this year, apart from more stylized writers of his generation. More, please.

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