Conductor Lawrence Foster, the members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a near-capacity audience had to overcome adversity Tuesday in order to celebrate the official opening night of the Hollywood Bowl’s 71st summer season.
The first blow against the concert actually came at the end of June, when the featured soloist, pianist Alfred Brendel, canceled his entire American tour due to tendinitis. Some hasty negotiations produced a suitable, if more familiar, replacement: Andre Watts.
Then, on the night of nights, when gourmet picnicking and jovial spirits should reign supreme, Hurricane Darby did its best to transform the Bowl into a tropical depression. For the most part Darby failed, an occasional sprinkle notwithstanding, and Beethoven reigned supreme.
The previously announced all-Beethoven concert remained intact, with Watts taking over the task of interpreting the Fifth Piano Concerto, the “Emperor.”
Concert opened with a performance of the overture “The Consecration of the House” and ended with the dancing spirit and propulsive joy of the Seventh Symphony.
As Brendel is probably considered the world’s premier concert pianist, anyone who is asked to take his place is stepping into a dangerous arena. Watts emerged comparatively unscathed, offering a rendition that, for the most part, floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee.
He attacked the symphony’s opening movement’s succession of rolling chords with athletic prowess, producing a sense of dynamic magnitude.
In contrast, the poetic Adagio took on Mozartian elegance, becoming a graceful exercise set off by sparkling strings of ascending and descending notes.
Watts’ timing and attack of the dramatic bridge between the second and third movement were adroit, and the final movement was filled with joyful expressions of the rollicking main theme.
There were moments when interpretive zeal out-ran digital dexterity.
But the overall effect, especially in terms of the interaction between soloist and orchestra, was expressive and cohesive.
The members of the L.A. Philharmonic seemed more charged with energy and precise in their attacks then they had been in the Bowl’s week of preview concerts.
Under Foster’s gesticulating guidance they captured the Handelian nature of the opening overture and, in the various aspects of the Seventh Symphony, showed that they have become a Beethoven orchestra to be reckoned with.