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MUSIC REVIEW

A cool traversal of the 'Rach 3'

August 30, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

STRAVINSKY described his friend Sergei Rachmaninoff as "a 6 1/2 -foot scowl." In music critic Harold C. Schonberg's book "The Great Pianists," the chapter devoted to Rachmaninoff is titled "The Puritan." However fair to the Russian's personality, both descriptions indicate that Rachmaninoff -- unlike some of his later interpreters -- was not given to self-indulgence.

Neither was Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky when he played Rachmaninoff's notoriously difficult Concerto No. 3 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Kirill Petrenko on Tuesday at the Hollywood Bowl.

Although he didn't scowl, the handsome, poised Lugansky played the piece with cool reserve, letting his fleet, elegant fingers traverse the virtuosic hurdles with sober confidence, speed, accuracy and seeming ease. A little more emotional heat and imagination might have revealed additional personal insights and depths, however.

The concerto may not be great music, but it is easy to get caught up in appreciation of the knuckle-busting twists and turns, interlocking finger-work, blockbuster chords and other fireworks demanded from the soloist. For these reasons, "Rach 3" will always have an audience.

Petrenko, who was making his Bowl debut, was clearly on Lugansky's wavelength, the two breathing as one at the crests of the big theme in the finale and ending with spot-on precision. The Philharmonic provided velvety, discreet accompaniment.

After intermission, Petrenko led Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 and the Suite from Stravinsky's "Firebird."

Composed in 1925 as a graduation requirement for the Leningrad Conservatory, Shostakovich's First is an emotionally divided, even schizophrenic work. The first two movements are breezy and cheeky; the last two, composed as a friend was dying, are serious and ominous. Many of the composer's interests and fixations, which he would explore for the rest of his life, are already sounded in the work.

Shostakovich labored to make the piece thematically unified. But making it sound coherent is no easy task, and Petrenko didn't quite bring that off, for all the many splendid solos from the orchestra musicians. It may be that the piece evaporated too easily in the outdoors, except for the raucous, even vulgar full-orchestra outbursts.

Stravinsky's colorful score is more foolproof, and Petrenko led an atmospheric, taut and elegant account of the composer's arguably most popular music.

The evening, whose program will be repeated tonight, also included a tribute to former Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman, who was given the Los Angeles Philharmonic Distinguished Service Award.

chris.pasles@latimes.com

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Los Angeles Philharmonic

Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood

When: 8 tonight

Price: $1 to $122

Contact: (323) 850-2000 or www.hollywoodbowl.com

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