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Heartfelt -- and proud of it

Leonard Slatkin and the Philharmonic honor Dvorak at the Bowl.

July 15, 2006|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

The music of Dvorak has never been a problem for audiences. It has always gone straight to the heart. But it rarely receives the critical acclaim it deserves. Its directness, grace and melodic invention seem too easy, too lacking in artifice, to warrant argument or commentary.

So one can readily forget how wonderful and ever-new it is. Fortunately, conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Los Angeles Philharmonic reminded us with a Dvorak program Thursday at the Hollywood Bowl.

To be sure, the concert offered only a sample of the possible riches: Three Slavonic Dances, the Violin Concerto and the "New World" Symphony, all splendidly performed and heard through an amplification system that transmitted the orchestra's transparency, balance and clarity without distortion. But it was enough.

Canadian James Ehnes, 30, was the violin soloist. He brought extroversion and propulsive energy to a work that perhaps hasn't yet acquired its rightful status among the top-drawer concertos. Maybe that's why he emphasized its drama.

He didn't allow much tenderness and introspection into his playing until the midpoint of the slow movement, right before the trumpets' arresting interruptions. In the finale, he was all fire and playfulness, and everywhere he showed powerful technique and drew a range of warm colors from the "Ex Marsick" Stradivarius of 1715, on loan from the Fulton Collection in Seattle.

The emotional highpoint of the evening, however, was the Largo movement of the "New World" Symphony, with English horn player Carolyn Hove sounding the famous "Goin' Home" theme with almost unbearable sadness, yet without any distortion or manipulation of line, dynamic or rhythm. Her colleagues seamlessly extended the tender mood, and it didn't take long to feel one was hearing a dream performance -- and outdoors, at the Bowl, to boot.

In other movements of the work, one could quibble with Slatkin's decisions or points of emphasis, and yes, there was a single unfortunate mishap during a horn solo and a few too many aircraft intrusions overhead. But it would be indulgent to overemphasize any of that. This was one of the special nights at the Bowl.

Slatkin opened the program with the first three of the Opus 46 Slavonic Dances, played in reverse order: the Polka, Dumka and Furiant. All are imaginative, melodic gems that readily testify to the composer's genius.

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