Andre Previn was busy making amiable introductions Thursday when he rejoined the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for a two-program stint marking his final Music Center appearances of the season.
First came a posthumous one, the orchestra's premiere performance of the late Roger Sessions' Second Symphony, composed in 1946. Next came an early one, the unheralded local debut of pianist Jon Kimura Parker, who stepped in for an indisposed Horacio Gutierrez.
Parker, 24, a multiple prizewinner, turns out to have been the music director's choice for a recording he just made with his other orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic. And the Sessions represents Previn's ongoing championing of American mainstream composers, those unsung symphonic heroes whose accessible music is all but unknown to subscription audiences.
On both counts, the Thursday concert proved praiseworthy--not least because the Philharmonic played with a responsive warmth for its chief, who provided gratifying, reachable challenges.
Sessions' symphony, for example, is wholly absorbing and a model of high craftsmanship. It boasts both the internal complexity that holds players' attention and listeners' ears as well as a diverse moodscape--everything from lyric anomie for high strings, to bold brass assertions, to wisps of melancholy and perky playfulness.
Dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and inspired by F.D.R.'s death), it seems like the American counterpart to the 20th-Century Russian composers Previn so admires--minus the heavy suffering and bitter irony of a Shostakovich, and plus an occasional straying from tonality.
Throughout, Previn & Co. delivered a luminous reading, but the conclusion of the slow movement had an exquisitely controlled pianissimo--similar to those profound and heart-stopping moments the maestro managed in the Andante of Brahms' Second Piano Concerto.
Here, however, the Vancouver-born Parker took the spotlight and established himself as a solid musician with an unfaltering technique. While his gestures were more hearty than the results they produced, the pianist had the score thoroughly in hand and head. He embraced Brahms' mighty pronouncements, his heated outbursts, his rhapsodic dreaminess and the paths between. But not as a thunderer or a philosopher, though in time he may also discover those depths.
Previn accommodated his guest with predictably seasoned support, thanks to an alert Philharmonic.
He began the evening with a brisk, bright overture to Berlioz's "Benvenuto Cellini."