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MUSIC REVIEW

Ending the Season on Dramatic Note

September 17, 1998|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

One approached the Hollywood Bowl with trepidation Tuesday night, when cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra were scheduled to play John Tavener's large-scale spiritual concerto "The Protecting Veil." The expansive dynamic range of the three-quarter-hour work would be difficult to project inside a roofed auditorium, much less an outdoor amphitheater that can hold 18,000 listeners. Would this deeply contemplative sound-essay carry to the far spaces of the large showplace?

In the event, it was no problem. Ma played with the intensity and projection that characterize his artistry, the resident sound engineers broadcast even the quietest passages without distortion--climatic conditions on this balmy evening seemed to help--and the entire work sounded as engrossing as the recorded versions have prepared us to expect.

Before a large and rapt audience gathered at the Bowl, the total performance, conducted with great care and attention by LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane, achieved the complexity of thought and clarified lyric arc Tavener must have planned.

Ma, always at his most poetic and dramatic in music of spiritual content, led the way, of course, finding continuity in abstraction (even with programmatic titles to each of the movements, the work remains non-narrative) and connecting all parts of the piece with a sense of progression. The musical materials, as with Tavener's "holy minimalist" colleagues Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Part, are simple but not primitive--diatonic and pentatonic tunes abound--and vastly varied.

There is a sense of timelessness in Tavener's style; as slow and soft as much of the work is, it never stands still, or irritates with inaction, or becomes redundant. Is it a masterpiece? Let's wait 10 years to decide.

Robert Schumann's Second Symphony, which took up the second half of this, the final classical event of the 1998 Bowl season, is a masterpiece, but, depending on the conductor, it does not always live up to that designation.

Kahane led a vigorous performance and the orchestra performed very neatly, but without conviction. For all its many niceties, after a scrambled and monochromatic opening movement, and despite some wonderful contributions later on from all the wind players, this reading regularly lacked passion and compulsion.

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