This season, there are two Brazilian programs at the Hollywood Bowl --- one, the now-traditional jazz-oriented night set for Sept. 3; the other, a crazy-quilt symphonic/pop program that debuted over the past weekend. Aside from an energetic set by Sergio Mendes and some shamefully neglected music by Villa-Lobos, Friday's program often seemed like an American tourist's idea of Brazil before the bossa nova era --- with all of the implied kitschy cliches on parade. The fuse for this program was lit by a Hollywood Bowl Orchestra tour of Brazil last Thanksgiving, which included a concert on the sand of Copacabana Beach in a replica of the Bowl's shell. That experience probably set off a few weird programming choices.
Since Brazilians reportedly went wild for the HBO’s calling card — American film music — conductor John Mauceri inserted the themes from “Somewhere in Time” and “Mission: Impossible” incongruously into this program. And Hollywood’s homogenizing influence also pervaded the frankly corny symphonic arrangements of Brazilian or Brazilian-inspired tunes studded throughout the program, including a “Carmen Miranda Fantasy” which may have been a first performance, but sounded instantly dated.
Yet Mauceri’s Villa-Lobos set was most enterprising on a number of counts. He resurrected the marvelous “Iberian Impression” from one of the “The Discovery of Brazil” film score suites, full of typically busy, lush textures and chugging rhythms, and gave a taste of Villa-Lobos’ hauntingly attractive Broadway show, “Magdalena,” in the form of a seven-minute suite.
The Aria from “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5,” taken at close to the composer’s tempo with a somewhat overexuberant vocal from soprano Jennifer Ringo, was the sole well-known work of the lot.
Sergio Mendes’ current nine-member band, with the trademark dual female lead vocals and now armed with a more complex, boisterous percussion artillery, sounded as life-affirmingly fresh and as sexy as the famous earlier editions.
In a 40-minute set, plus two encores, the band knocked out some Jobim standards, a few still-appetizing ’60s hits like “Mas Que Nada,” “The Fool on the Hill” and “The Look of Love,” some exotic evocations of Brazil’s interior, and a rendition of “Tristeza” accompanied by a wildly colorful chorus line of scantily-clad samba dancers.
Mauceri and the Bowl Orch underscored Mendes’ set with a mostly subdued carpet of strings, using the original Dave Grusin charts on some of the hits. And the program ended in a splash of fireworks to the beat of “Tico-Tico,” possibly inaugurating a regular addition to the Bowl’s pyrotechnical calendar.