Of the triumph Britain's Mark Wigglesworth may have enjoyed on his last Music Center visit (". . . taut, nicely controlled!" -Rich, L.A. Weekly), none remained on his latest stint with the Philharmonic. The program should have been a pushover: Brahms at his friendliest, Beethoven at his most Beethovenian, with a pianist in the Brahms Second Concerto renowned for his excellence. Beethoven's Seventh Symphony seemed to crash its way into Mrs. Chandler's playhouse in the same armored tanks that Wigglesworth had used for the Shostakovich Seventh in 1995. In the Seventh, Beethoven scores his horns higher than in any other of his symphonies; if you have the old Toscanini/N.Y. Philharmonic recording, you know how thrilling those high E's can be. Under Wigglesworth, they merely out-screeched everyone else; the timpani (properly played with hard sticks) drowned out winds and strings. He's cute, all right, this diminutive Brit with the bouncy arm movements that look like the way record collectors contort themselves in front of the stereo. The word I took away last Thursday night was bratty; at 33, Mark Wigglesworth might consider giving up the greasy kid stuff in favor of a more responsible kind of musicality.
The usually excellent Stephen Kovacevich delivered a much-under-par account of Brahms' Second Concerto, out of touch with the orchestra and, even worse, out of touch with a fair number of the notes. I've known Kovacevich (as Stephen Bishop) since when, at 17, he told me he was going to become the world's greatest pianist. I've been pleased at how close he's come. His problems last Thursday stemmed, I'm willing to swear, from a breakdown of communication with the conductor, a lapse understandable and forgettable.