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Chung Is Soloist : Previn Conducts Prokofiev

March 21, 1987|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music Critic

Goodby Boulez. Hello Previn.

After a fortnight of exceptionally high-powered, exceptionally probing, exceptionally stimulating music-making by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the scalpel of Pierre Boulez, Andre Previn has reclaimed his podium and brought us back, more or less, to business as usual.

The business, Thursday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, kept the focus on the 20th Century. But, unlike his French colleague, Previn is not an explorer by nature. For him, the recent past is unsettling enough.

Turning to the terra cognita of an all-Prokofiev program, our music director seemed in his element. He didn't have to worry about knotty intellectual problems at one extreme or about subtle romantic insights at the other. He could deal in forthright generalities, and he dealt well.

He also dealt, where possible, with restraint. Some conductors--no, most conductors--search for the blood and thunder in Prokofiev and then underline these qualities. Previn follows the grand line, observes the obvious expository trends, conveys the appropriate moods, defines the rhythmic structures and doesn't worry much about details.

He tries not to exaggerate. He stays cool.

In the process, he may slight emotional impact. Luckily, Prokofiev can benefit--to a degree--from benign expressive neglect. He doesn't necessarily beg for inspired interpretation. He built the tough, fundamental affects into his music.

Previn concentrated on clarity and unforced momentum in tracing the stern, ominous, brooding contortions of the Sixth Symphony. One can recall more exciting performances, and more refined ones. Still, the steady, massive force of this performance was compelling.

Kyung-Wha Chung was the authoritative soloist in the Second Violin Concerto. She brought sprightly vigor to the first movement and recovered from a pardonable memory lapse with speedy aplomb. She sustained the long lines of the exquisite Andante with disarming sweetness and poise, even though one longed for a slower tempo and a bit more pathos. Then she ripped through the final allegro with elegant fury.

Many subscribers took the valedictory flourishes of the Concerto as a cue for defection. Those daring enough to stay for the post-"Sacre" primitivism of the "Scythian Suite," however, encountered Previn at his wildest. Everything is relative.

He permitted the enormous orchestral apparatus to cross the pain threshold in the fortissississimo outbursts. He tugged almost aggressively at the vague dance maneuvers. He savored the splashes of primary colors on a vast canvas. Calmly, he crashed his way to the ultimate whiz-bang cadence.

Happily bludgeoned, the audience responded with push-button bravos.

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