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At Royce Hall : Previn Conducts His 'Reflections'

May 12, 1986|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music Critic

We all know Andre Previn the music director. We all know Andre Previn the conductor. Many of us know Previn the pianist.

Enter Previn the composer.

Friday night at Royce Hall, UCLA, the Los Angeles Philharmonic continued its three-part series of concerts designed primarily to rehearse repertory for the forthcoming East Coast tour.

The program, familiar for the most part, began with a celebrated Previn specialty, Elgar's "Enigma" Variations (in a remarkably bold, poised and splashy performance). It closed with the same heroic challenge that had brought the maestro's inaugural agenda to a climax last fall: the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5.

In between, however, came a novelty, for local consumption only. It came in the neat, tight and terse form of Previn's own "Reflections."

Written in 1981 for the Philadelphia Orchestra, the piece turned out to be a reasonably well-crafted, elegiac, one-movement mini-concerto (duration: 12 minutes) scored for a very busy cello, a not-so-busy Engish horn and a rather mushy-sounding orchestra.

Previn's musical vocabulary here is predicated on a network of plaintive whimpers for his wind soloist, bravura flourishes for his string soloist, a few Stravinskyesque interpolations hinting at "Sacre" and "Petrushka," and bleak romantic harmonies cautiously peppered, once in a while, with "wrong-note" dissonance.

One could savor a lot of undeniably effective devices. Nevertheless, on first hearing, one looked in vain for signs of striking originality, just as one yearned for a unifying expressive impulse.

Previn conducted the West Coast premiere with his customary no-nonsense clarity. The orchestra responded appreciatively. Philharmonic principals Robert Cowart (English horn) and Ronald Leonard (cello) dispatched the solo duties with authority and aplomb.

The "Reflections" may have fallen victim to something of a stylistic identity crisis. Still, they compelled interest over the short haul in an amiable, easy, economical way.

Most of the rather sparse audience applauded politely. One woman in an aisle seat downstairs, however, punctuated the non-ovation with marvelous, ear-piercing, wildly enthusiastic whistles.

That woman turned out to be none other than the conductor-composer's wife. Such dauntless conjugal devotion and support could warm even the iciest critical cockles.

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