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Music Review

Playing It Much Too Safe at the Bowl


Even for this bastion of cautious programming, the Hollywood Bowl served up a program Thursday night that looked so conservative, so staid, so afraid of risk that it was ironically breathtaking in its audacity.

Granted, there may have been plenty among the 7,852 present who had never heard the Beethoven Violin Concerto and the Brahms Symphony No. 1 before. That's the populist argument for endlessly recirculating the classics, but you would never believe it sitting in the lower boxes; you could hear people humming along with the big tunes as if this were Gershwin night.

The more crucial point is whether there was anything in the performances of the two obviously gifted young headliners, Manitoba, Canada-born violinist James Ehnes and the Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard, that justified another pass through these overplayed works.

Ehnes, 24, who first appeared at the Bowl in 1996, lacked nothing in sheer polish; every note was absolutely in tune, every technical hurdle seemingly overcome with ease. Yet as he lovingly caressed certain portions of Beethoven's landscape, he seemed to lose himself in the lyrical line, letting the argument drift in a sweetly aimless manner. After a rhythmically firm opening, Dausgaard also began to lay on the legatos too heavily, never fully reestablishing the accompaniment's earlier sharpness.

The conductor--whose latest CD explores the far more adventurous terrain of his countryman Per Norgard and Gyorgy Ligeti--certainly deserves credit for trying to energize Herr Brahms, as well as getting the Los Angeles Philharmonic to play alertly and cohesively all evening long.

He leaped impetuously into the opening measures of the symphony and sustained the opening momentum throughout the piece's entire span (even in the slow movement), enforcing passages of strong rhythm in the first movement, injecting more than a little volatility into crucial climaxes in the Finale.

Still, in neither piece did the performers really tap into any special insights or depths. Nor did the sound quality--dim in Beethoven, livelier yet dry in Brahms--enhance the experience much. You came away impressed by technical skill but not terribly moved.

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