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MUSIC REVIEW

Borge Shows Ageless Charm in Evening of Warmth, Wit

August 26, 1996|TIMOTHY MANGAN

In a delightfully rambling, free-form evening at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Victor Borge, 87, showed that he's still in top form.

Some of the comedic bits in his Friday night show were as old as the music he performed, but it didn't matter. In his absent-minded, bumbling way--he's the Mr. Magoo of classical music--Borge made it all seem spontaneous and fresh.

In fact, there aren't many, if any, who could make this material work so well and consistently. His casual way at the piano captured the easy lilt and ample elegance of waltzes by Chopin and Ignaz Friedman much better than most superstar pianists do. His bit with "The Dance of the Comedians"--wherein he holds the orchestra on the penultimate chord while he fumbles through his music in search of the last note--works because it seems the exemplification of the air-headed, klutzy character Borge has created.

These days, much of the humor isn't even music-related, but as Borge might wearily proclaim himself, who cares? No one appeared to mind that the short story he read by the Russian author Sonovavitch (say it slowly)--its every numerical reference, either phonetic or real, raised by inflation so that words like "wonderful" became "twoderful" and "Tea for Two" became "Tea Five Three"--had nothing to do with, well, anything really.

His conducting, in such pieces as "Les Toreadors" and "Danse Boheme" from "Carmen," was surprisingly taut and alert to detail. But if one had any complaint, it was that sometimes the music wasn't up to the comedy. Borge's lengthy, and straight, Fantasy on Themes from "La Boheme" for piano and orchestra failed to integrate its solo instrument in a convincing way. His arrangement of "Clair de Lune" lapsed into easy listening.

Elsewhere though, in bits such as his insertions of "Happy Birthday" into a Brahms waltz, Beethoven's Minuet in G and Wagner's "Tannhauser" Overture, Borge was right on target. In short, a charming night.

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