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Pallid 9th At Hollywood Bowl : Previn Ventures Beethoven

August 18, 1986|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music Critic

The Germanic giants represent the cornerstone of the symphonic repertory. Every great conductor wants to leave his mark on the symphonies of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms et al.

Or so we used to think.

Andre Previn, current music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, cultivates other affinities and other priorities. He likes the modernistic bombast of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, the elegant mush of Walton, Vaughan Williams and Elgar, the exquisite blurs of Debussy and Ravel, the amiable intimacies of Mozart and Haydn. . . .

Previn actually managed to get through his first winter at the Music Center without touching a single Beethoven symphony.

Next season he will do the same. Our resident maestro will leave the sole Beethoven symphony on the '86-7 subscription agenda, the Eighth, to Kurt Sanderling--a specialist also charged with providing token attention to Schubert and Bruckner. Fleeting service on behalf of Schumann and Mahler will be the business of other guest conductors: Sir Charles Groves and Simon Rattle.

Friday night at Hollywood Bowl, however, Previn finally ventured some personal anti-type casting. He not only conducted symphonic Beethoven in Los Angeles but started with the most daunting challenge of all: the Ninth. In the process, he offered a few unsettling clues regarding what cannot be called benign repertory neglect.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 19, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 5 Column 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
In a Monday picture caption of a Hollywood Bowl concert, the four vocal soloists in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony were misidentified. The soloists, from left, were Nadine Secunde, Gail Dubinbaum, Richard Leech and Paul Plishka.

He conducted almost as if the Ninth were a technical exercise. In the process, he slighted heroism, lyrical sweep and dramatic sentiment. If he harbors strikingly personal ideas about the work, he kept them a secret.

Essentially, this was a brisk, dry, efficient, well-executed performance. The clarity for its own sake eventually threatened to be boring. Not everyone can make the Ninth boring.

Before Previn's return to what used to be his home town, some observers had worried that he would bathe the podium in Hollywood glitz. There was, it turned out, no need to worry.

Previn's style these days owes everything to British understatement. A little of that quality, unfortunately, can go a long way when one is dealing with sublime agitation and profound eloquence.

Previn is a musician who can sustain calm even at very high speeds. His, obviously, is an analytical mind, and his Ninth was undeniably poised, taut, logically balanced.

Still, Beethoven without passion is as effective as Beethoven without majesty. Previn gave us both.

Despite some inequities that might be blamed on the amplification system, the Philharmonic played alertly for its boss, sometimes even with virtuosity.

In the oddly perfunctory "Ode to Joy," the solid vocal quartet--Nadine Secunde, Gail Dubinbaum, Richard Leech and Paul Plishka--treated both Beethoven and Schiller with wonted respect.

Now in the state of flux between the Roger Wagner and John Currie regimes (and trained on this occasion by Robert Porco), the Los Angeles Master Chorale sang with accustomed sonority and, in the case of the high-tessitura sopranos, with unaccustomed strain.

By rights, a work as powerful as the Ninth should stand by itself. The omission of a musical overture and of an intermission would wreak havoc, however, with the concession-stand profits.

Ergo, this concert began with the short-winded charms of the second Mozart Horn Concerto, K. 417. Temporarily promoted from his co-principal slot in the brass section, John Cerminaro performed the ornate solos with dapper ease.

The audience, officially tabulated at 13,607, seemed happy.

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