When a rarely heard classical work finds its way onto a concert program, it often can leave listeners feeling as if they’ve encountered an unfairly forgotten masterpiece.
In the case of Alexander Glazunov's Violin Concerto, which the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed at the Hollywood Bowl on Thursday under Bramwell Tovey’s baton, with L.A. Phil concertmaster Martin Chalifour as soloist, the neglect seems perhaps more understandable.
For all Glazunov’s genial lyricism and canny way with orchestration, the concerto tends to meander, its vein of wistfulness never digging very deep, its melodic invention stopping well short of Tchaikovskian memorability -- that is, until rollicking brass writing brings a too-little-too-late jolt of distinctiveness to the score’s closing pages.
Chalifour and Tovey certainly pleaded a good case for the piece, with supple phrasing from the orchestra, and an eloquent and understated virtuosity to Chalifour’s playing. Once or twice, Chalifour succumbed to technical fallibility and wayward intonation – as if this seldom-performed work was apparently not yet 100% under his fingers. But he’s a player of tremendous sensitivity, and he clearly loves this concerto.
The remaining two pieces on the program were as over-familiar as the Glazunov was little-known, but Tovey brought freshness to these warhorses. He took Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” at a moderate tempo that allowed the music’s wit and atmosphere to distill, and treated Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” to a vividly pictorial reading.
Molding tempos and phrases to point up the symphony’s narrative events, the conductor drew consistently impressive playing from the orchestra. The strings had a silken sheen in the second and third movements, the brass made a fine, fat, burnished sound in the "March to the Scaffold," and the winds contributed ravishing work throughout, in solos and as a seamlessly blended choir.