When Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, who turns 79 in September, comes to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he brings qualities that one used to associate with departed veteran maestros of the past — a searching depth, revelation of detail without losing the forest for the trees, a sense of how to zero in upon and shape a climax. Yes, even at the Hollywood Bowl — with its extra-musical distractions, variable amplified sound and short rehearsal time — Frühbeck delivers the goods, and the appreciative Philharmonic keeps inviting him back.
Carl Orff’s explosive, bawdy, choral spectacular “Carmina Burana” was the big draw Tuesday night (and will be repeated Thursday). Before “Carmina,” with some of Orff’s vocal forces at his disposal, Frühbeck programmed nearly a half-hour of Mendelssohn’s incidental music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Interestingly, Orff also wrote incidental music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but it is now mostly locked up in libraries, probably because of its association with the Third Reich as a substitute for Mendelssohn’s score, which was banned. And, I suspect, it isn’t nearly as good as Mendelssohn’s — or for that matter, “Carmina Burana.”
In a rather unusual move, Frühbeck skipped the Overture, the section that Mendelssohn wrote as a teenager, and concentrated upon the later music, starting with a deliberately-paced Scherzo that allowed us to hear its inner workings. The rest had a deep, sometimes floating, sometimes weighty, lived-in quality — old school music-making in the best sense. “Ye Spotted Snakes,” with soprano Laura Claycomb and a female delegation from the Los Angeles Master Chorale, was especially lovely.