The program was all French, and Martin Chalifour’s Saint-Saëns was brilliant.
Normally heard as the LA Phil’s Principal Concertmaster, Chalifour stepped up to center stage to star as soloist on July 13 at the Hollywood Bowl, performing Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto No. 3 to open the passionate all-French program with guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.
Have you ever noticed the pre-performance ambiance at the Bowl? Wafts of picnic fare float in an atmosphere electrified by evanescent clinks of glass and an indistinct din of murmur and echo. Add to that soundscape a smattering of familiar motifs interwoven with the performers’ idiosyncratic virtuoso warm-up rituals, and the effect was to produce a perfect impressionistic frame as twilight settled into Chalifour’s performance.
Chalifour’s compelling sound was immediately gripping. His dynamic shaping of each note and phrase coupled with the intensely rich timbre of his violin were undeniably moving, especially in the passionate opening lower-range melody over Saint-Saëns’ effervescent pianissimo accompaniment.
We could vicariously feel the delicacy and calmness of his touch, especially in the emphatic lilting lines of the first movement. The accompanying projection system portrayed Chalifour’s expressions and elegant gestures as larger than life, and actually made the event seem virtually intimate. His impeccable technique was astonishing as Saint-Saëns’ flourishes coursed over the entire range of the instrument. The audio reinforcement brought the soloist further into the foreground than I expected, but on the other hand, allowed the vast outdoor audience to hear the minutest shadings of Chalifour’s exquisite artistry, albeit with a slight electric accent, especially in the extrema of the upper pitch range.
The second movement opened with a beautiful midrange melody that intermingled with several woodwind soloists. Chalifour’s sound was again alluring and warm. Flutist Sara Jackson and oboist Marion Arthur Kuszyk blended and contrasted beautifully with Chalifour’s emotive portrayal. Clarinetist Lorin Levee was superb in the closing of the second movement, coalescing seamlessly into a unique and pleasant timbral hue under Chalifour’s delicate harmonics. The delicacy of their sound was truly delectable, and an amazing artistic feat, given the size of the venue.
The third movement opened with dramatic flair. Chalifour created intense bursts of high energy in his passionate expressions that touched the stratospheric reaches of his instrument.
The evening brought a triumphant performance from Chalifour. Bravo!
The post-intermission works included Debussy’s La Mer and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2. My attention was drawn repeatedly to flutist Demarre McGill; his skill was astounding, and his tunefulness was fetching.
Frühbeck de Burgos pushed the second movement of La Mer with a faster tempo than I have ever heard, and in the moment it was very effective. The currents that he swirled in the Bowl inevitably swept the audience with them. The finale paled in contrast to the supercharged second movement.
Now having heard the opening two concerts of the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl, one thing is clear — this season will be great! What a treat it was to spend a summer evening accompanied by perfect Southern California temps, relaxing with sumptuous music in the company of friends and fellow music lovers, and sharing a wonderfully memorable moment.
There are very few venues like the Bowl, and none even comparable when the Phil is home.
View the LA Phil’s summer schedule at www.laphil.com.