After such an enjoyable program two weeks ago, the California Philharmonic‘s “Frank, Tony and the Maestro” at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Aug. 8 was not up to their usual standards. The customary thread with which Maestro Vener usually weaves together all the selections was grossly missing. The program ranged from Las Vegas-styled standards to Elgar’s Enigma Variations, from highlights of The Sound of Music to Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccio for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28. This hodge-podge created a program that was frayed at the edges.
Two baritones, Kevin Earley and Michael B. Levin, were engaged for this program. Earley was most at ease with the musical theater genre, while the more seasoned Levin had a flair for standards made famous by Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. The program would easily have been improved by cutting Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Op. 35, which closed the first half, and programming additional songs for the two vocalists.
The Saint-Saëns showpiece opened the second half and featured Daniel Shindarov, a remarkable Russian violinist who soon will celebrate his 86th birthday. The audience responded to his performance with an enthusiastic ovation. Earley followed with a couple selections: “As Time Goes By,” in which he wandered away from the tonal center by the end of the song, and his most successful number, “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.
Every performance group needs to know what they do best and stick to it. The CalPhil’s rendition of Elgar’s masterpiece, the Enigma Variations, Op. 36, which closed the concert, was abysmal. The work sounded under rehearsed, the strings were ragged, the woodwinds’ ensemble was inferior, and the tempos were unbearably slow. Overall the variations lacked the vigor, clarity, and sparkle to convey their true genius and grandeur. Vener called back the singers for a final encore, “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” which restored some energy to the hall.
The final concerts on Aug. 21 and 22 promise to end the season with a big bang: a combination of Broadway favorites and the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth. For information, call (800) 745-3000 or visit www.calphil.org.