Gripped in the clutches of a persistent heatwave, music-loving Angelenos had a difficult choice to make last Thursday. Stay bunkered down in their air-conditioned homes. Or defy the sweltering heat and choking traffic to make the trip to the Hollywood Hills for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s last Hollywood Bowl concert of 2012. Some 9,000 people opted to brave temperatures that felt just a couple degrees short of baking even at night. For most of them, the incentive of seeing and hearing Itzhak Perlman was, no doubt, an incentive to travel they couldn’t turn down. But at the end of the concert, one felt that the conducting of Bramwell Tovey was an equally good reason to have ventured to the Bowl.

Hollywood Bowl Shell © courtesy of Los Angeles Philharmonic Association
Hollywood Bowl Shell
© courtesy of Los Angeles Philharmonic Association

A dash of paprika began the proceedings with the Tenth, Fourth, and Fifth Hungarian Dances of Johannes Brahms. Tovey’s readings were alert and crisp, yet digging into the music’s swooning Romanticism with playful rubati.

The dances were a prelude to the appearance of violinist Itzhak Perlman, who was met with a standing ovation before he played a single note. At 67 years of age, Perlman is no longer the technician he once was. His sense of pitch and rhythm are at times only approximate. But his sunny, Kreislerian style in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto played to his strengths: an ability to luxuriate in the music’s lyric power. This was especially evident in the Canzonetta, where Perlman weaved an impressive, songful spell; spurning the melancholy in the music in favor of a seraphic glow. The outer movements, if not crackling with electricity, unfolded with the all the leisureliness of a warm conversation—with some winding digressions—between friends.

Though having had little time to rehearse, the Philharmonic and Tovey gave Perlman an excellent accompaniment, with some especially delicious interplay between the winds and soloist.

Tovey and the orchestra returned after intermission with a hearty and well chiseled reading of Dvořák’s Symphony no. 8—a grand way to bid farewell to the Bowl until next summer. Tovey’s natural ease with Romantic repertoire was at its best here. Throughout the symphony Tovey displayed a suave grasp of the music’s structure and its rich instrumental detail. He was also alive to the music’s roots in dance, especially in his balletic take on the third movement. The Finale was sturdy and powerful. It was unhurried, but never dragging. Excitement was built not by speed, but by allowing Dvořák’s melodies, rhythms, and orchestral color to speak for themselves. The scintillating coda was itself worth the drive to the Bowl.

It was a performance that made one forget that it was still stiflingly warm even at night—and leave one sorry that it’ll be another year until Tovey returns to conduct in Los Angeles.

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