With the Los Angeles Philharmonic out globetrotting, John Mauceri and his Hollywood Bowl Orchestra slipped into one of the Phil’s classical Tuesday slots at the Bowl, characteristically bringing something of Hollywood with them. Mauceri’s zeal to integrate music by film composers into the classical mainstream bore some fruit this time — and even made for some intriguing, out-of-the-ordinary listening.
When the 1963 blockbuster “Cleopatra” is mentioned, one thinks of the controversies about the film’s bloated budget, Liz & Dick, etc., but rarely about Alex North’s fascinating score, from which Mauceri fashioned a 26-minute two-part suite, “Cleopatra: A Symphonic Portrait.” When heard outside the cinema, the unusual orchestrations — exotic harpsichord-like flourishes (played here on a synthesizer), dissonantly tangy strings and muted trumpets — and brooding passages engage and titillate the ear. As shaped by Mauceri, this music steers mostly clear of stock film cliches, creating its own sound world that doesn’t need the suggestion of ancient Egypt.
By contrast, Elmer Bernstein’s “Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra” — written for guitarist Christopher Parkening and heard for the first time live in L.A. — straddles two worlds, the Andalusian wellspring of 20th century classical guitar music and Hollywood film rhetoric.
Sometimes the urge to recycle Main Title Theme gestures gets the better of Bernstein, but he is more absorbing when he gravitates toward Spain. Best of all is the finale, a delightful pastiche in the style of the corresponding finale of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” Outdoors, Parkening’s performance was tougher and a bit feistier in tone than his Angel recording of the piece, although the rhythms in the finale sounded awkward (not enough rehearsal time?).
Afterward, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” sprawled anti-climactically, with Mauceri choosing often slower-than-usual tempos and concertmaster Bruce Dukov sweetly drawing out the repeated solo violin motifs with lots of rubato. Everyone played well, but the piece’s repetitions seemed especially wearisome.