Live Music: The Los Angeles Philharmonic and Violinist Renaut Capucon at the Hollywood Bowl

By Don Heckman

Any night is a good night to hear Beethoven.  And it’s even better when the performance takes place at the Hollywood Bowl, as it did last Thursday on a brisk Summer evening, when a waxing moon was slowly beginning to rise between the trees at the Bowl’s southwest corner.

Atmospheric?  Sure.  But more than that – a richly engrossing musical evening, in which the Los Angeles Philharmonic, splendidly conducted by Lionel Bringuier, played two compelling Beethoven works – Symphony No. 7 and the Violin Concerto in D Major (with violinist Renaut Capucon).

Ludwig van Beethoven

Both works trace to Beethoven’s so-called “Middle Period,” a decade in which the deafness that ultimately took his hearing began to escalate.  Yet, despite its impact, he continued to compose at the astonishing level of imaginative creativity that would eventually climax with Symphony No. 9.

The Philharmonic opened the evening with the Violin Concerto, an especially lyrical work, fashioned from several unforgettable melodies.

Renaud Capucon

Beethoven assigned the violin some showcase technical displays, but for the most part, it weaves its way through the orchestral textures, sometimes blending into the ensemble’s layers of sound, sometimes soaring above it.

Capucon handled both requirements with ease bringing a seemingly effortless, airy virtuosity wherever it was demanded, as well as a sweet-toned lyricism to the melodic passages.

Unfortunately, the real subtleties of his playing were sometimes virtually inaudible through the Bowl’s sound system – especially in pianissimo high note segments.  At one point, a brief bassoon solo was far more prominent that most of Capucon’s high harmonic playing.  A shame for there to be such imbalance in the audio, since the work was so beautifully played.

No complaints about the performance of the Symphony, however.  Composed at a time when Beethoven’s hearing was almost completely gone, it displays aspects that were further developed in Symphony Nos. 8 and 9. Filled with dramatic contrasts, it has often been praised for its allegedly dance-like passages.

The Philharmonic, under Bringuier’s articulate direction, brought the work vividly to life, capturing all the subtleties of  music that was driven by the pure power of Beethoven’s vivid imagination.

By the time the Symphony came to its gripping climax, the moon – perhaps listening closely – had made its way beyond the treetops, into the welcoming night sky.

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