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A satisfying Romantic menu at the Bowl

July 28, 2007|Josef Woodard | Special to The Times

Routinely each summer, the Hollywood Bowl schedule becomes a grand musical roulette game, landing on different genres weekly. On Thursday night, the stage belonged to the Bowl's host, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, specifically to 19th century repertoire. In the great outdoors on a clement evening, all seemed well on Cahuenga Pass and in the world, thanks to a solidly delivered Romantic menu of Bruch's Violin Concerto, featuring virtuoso Sarah Chang, a Brahms appetizer and Schumann's Third Symphony ("Rhenish").

After the national anthem -- which, in this space, seems a musical-gastronomic palette cleanser between picnicking and musical digestion -- Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture" proved an agreeable fanfare. It bubbles over with songful themes, of the student and drinking song varieties, folded into a neat Brahms-ian fabric.

Bruch's Violin Concerto, a handsome piece of writing that barely hides its agenda as a soloist's showpiece, is a staple of the repertory for good reason. Its outsize emotional landscape plays well in the Bowl's sweep.

Chang lent a commanding presence, with a performance both polished and passionate, again confirming the steady maturation process of this former child prodigy. Restrained musings in the Adagio seamlessly segued into the finale's unrestrained gushing dynamics, approached here with a smart fervor, shy of sheer gymnastic overkill.

German-born Alexander Mickelthwate, who is associate conductor of the Philharmonic, exerted a sure yet flexible hand at the podium. Throughout, he kept the Romantic fires burning, but with measured heat. During the Bruch, he managed to keep a clean and propulsive house in the orchestra, despite inherent tension with Chang's assertive, personal sense of time and expressive voice.

After intermission, the orchestra stretched out on the mostly genial and unperturbed panorama of Schumann's symphony, written in 1850 at the outset of the turbulent and fatal decade for the troubled composer. A big, heroic theme in the opening movement, like the closing movement dubbed "Lebhaft (Lively)," suggested that this music is part of the ancestry of movie music clichés. It seemed, fleetingly, that we were in one of the Bowl's movie music evenings.

For all its blustery cheer, the symphony's deepest and most anomalous passage is the fourth of its five movements, "Feierlich (Solemnly)." Schumann's tribute to the Cologne Cathedral gave the Bowl crowd the most profound moment of an assured but easy-does-it evening.

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