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Bell and Alsop prove introspective yet bold

August 19, 2004|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Violinist Joshua Bell and conductor Marin Alsop made a hit team in the Los Angeles Philharmonic program Tuesday at the Hollywood Bowl. The violinist proved a passionate and charismatic advocate of Brahms' beloved Concerto in D, which opened the two-part concert. After intermission, Alsop led a strong, dynamic performance of Shostakovich's heroic Symphony No. 5.

Bell made his challenging entrance in the Brahms concerto with compelling attack, but he eased gracefully into the sweet lyrical theme that followed. He was bold in the big parts and tender in the introspective ones.

Thanks to the large projection screens, we could easily see the subtle play of his thoughtful engagement in the music, although his lanky body English needed no close-ups to traverse any distance from the stage.

The violinist played his own cadenza in the first movement. A cousin to the familiar Joachim cadenza, Bell's version fit comfortably into the 19th century idiom but kept the ear alert with new twists and turns.

A sympathetic collaborator, Alsop provided a warm, flowing, honeyed cushion of support.

At the Bowl, there's always a question of how the amplification affects the balance between soloist and orchestra -- as well as the overall sound that reaches listeners, depending on where they are.

From a garden seat, some of Brahms' towering orchestral statements sounded a bit muted. Perhaps the volume had been set so as not to overwhelm the soloist elsewhere. Bell, because of some electronic echoes from the new Bowl shell, sometimes seemed to be playing with an invisible, slightly behind-the-beat double. We had to make adjustments.

Alsop traversed the struggle and triumph in Shostakovich's Fifth with sure-handed attention. Although demonstrating much to praise, she was most impressive in the slow movement, where the composer transforms his debts to Mahler into personal, then national and ultimately universal expressions of anguish. It would be gratifying to hear the performance in a concert hall.

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