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MUSIC REVIEW : Perlman, Philharmonic in Midseason Bowl Form


It's that time of the year again: Time for another Hollywood Bowl season to be almost under way.

Although it won't count in the standings, Tuesday night's preseason Bowl concert, featuring the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the second entry in two weeks of "official" preseason events, was pretty much like many other real Bowl concerts. Maybe even a tad better. This year's team looks solid. Tuesday, they came to play.

The guest on the podium was Andrew Litton, the 35-year-old music director of the Dallas Symphony, who has tended toward the dependable rather than inspired in visits past. This night he turned it up a notch.

The stellar soloist was Itzhak Perlman, who in recent appearances here has been less than stellar, although he told some good jokes. This night he sounded involved, focused. The concert benefited the Philharmonic's education programs. Perlman, the program noted, was "donating a portion of his fee" to the cause.

But what everyone (attendance 10,584) was really buzzing (and punning) about were the new Bowl, er, "fixtures," part of a multimillion-dollar renovation. You would have thought we were in Flushing Meadows or something.

There has also been some repositioning of loudspeakers. The sound seemed louder than in the past and more reverberant (and thus a little phony). Balances favored the strings (not a bad thing) and . . . the second bassoon.

The reverb muddied up the busy, learned and fully scored counterpoint in Wagner's Prelude to "Die Meistersinger," which opened the concert. It was a relief when the composer cut to winds alone. Litton led a sturdy run-through, though, and jacked it up at the end.

Perlman's account of Beethoven's Violin Concerto proved poised, technically secure and tonally beautiful; the music emerged tellingly shaded, nuanced and dramatized. In short, Perlman was present.

Interpretively, there is room for disagreement. Perlman plays the Beethoven as if it were a Wieniawski concerto, although a good one. His finger work is gooey. The high-flying song becomes awfully Romantic. His bowing is fluid and casual. (Beethoven is sterner stuff than this.) And clearly Perlman came alive in the virtuoso fireworks of the Joachim cadenzas, all but announcing, "Now this is more like it." Still, within Perlman's framework, the performance worked well.

Litton and the orchestra backed him up with force and finesse, and then returned for Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 to conclude the program. The playing wasn't going to win any awards for cleanliness, but Litton coaxed a finely detailed, dynamically varied, exciting reading from his musicians. At the end, he achieved liftoff (a la Bernstein), which seemed of a piece with the airborne music-making.

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