At the Hollywood Bowl Thursday evening the Los Angeles Phil presented a concert titled Dynamic Dvořák consisting of light summer fare featuring the concertmaster Martin Chalifour. The short program tempted the curious with obscure Dvořák and Saint-Saëns interleaved with beloved warhorses by the two same composers, all of which floated pleasantly through the warm night air.

Paolo Bortolameolli
© Los Angeles Philharmonic

The mood was set by the young Chilean conductor Paolo Bortolameolli who bounded onto the stage and the podium and introduced the concert with infectious glee. He said that he was really excited to be there, talked about Dvorak’s “monumental” Seventh Symphony, explained a little of what Dvořák's ambitious but obscure early opera Vanda was about, then led a stirring national anthem with one violin singing.

The actual concert begin with the overture to Vanda, an epic thriller set in pagan times in old Krakow where Princess Vanda mounts the throne on her father’s death and, in five acts, fends off the stiff challenge of her male rival before saving the Czech people by throwing herself into the Vistula. The music is loud, full of movement, flair, energy, an academic fugue, and even some characteristic Dvořákian rustic sounds from the woodwinds and brass. One problem: none of the tunes was memorable. So kudos for resurrecting the piece but the fact that it only received a handful of performances during the composer’s lifetime and since then no more than five is a pretty good indication that was only a succès d'estime.

Not to worry, for Martin Chalifour then stepped in to save the day with an elegant, occasionally soaring performance of Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto no. 1 in A major. It was written in 1859, when the composer was 24, and was dedicated to the great Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate so it requires chops, attitude, and flair – no wonder it was once a favorite of Kyung-Wha Chung. It is easy listening, too, at 13 minutes long. Its three continuous sections, featuring a rapturous melody in the slow middle part set against harps and horns, won the audience’s heart, and Bortolameolli leapt off the podium to congratulate the soloist so spontaneously that Chalifour barely had time to acknowledge and briefly enjoy the audience’s ovation before Bortolameolli had leapt back onto the podium and begun the Saint-Saëns’s sultry Havanaise. Chalifour's sophisticated film noir reading captivated the Tinseltown crowd. After he finished he did not at first return to take a bow by himself, and when he did it was to cheers and calls for more, but he humbly smiled and simply walked back offstage. 

As always the Bowl at intermission was a people watcher’s paradise but eventually the piper had to be paid with the first of Dvořák’s last three symphonies, the usually depressingly serious D minor Seventh. It’s been in the Philharmonic’s repertoire for years – they even still use the ancient Simrock edition – but in response to Bortolameolli’s exertions and pleadings they occasionally curled into less stiffly Teutonic, more sensually Czech phrasings, and showed a little more willingness to move quickly if not exactly dynamically. The musicians gave it all it had and the French horn solo in the slow movement was a thing of pure silver beauty that even transcended the strips of loudspeakers flanking the stage.