One would never guess simply from appearance that Viktoria Mullova owns a commanding, original and thoroughly persuasive interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. She looked as if might have walked on stage Thursday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to set the score on the conductor's music rack.
But the thin, pale, serious young woman in an unadorned black jump suit carried a violin, which she quickly proved she could play with rare control.
Other violinists play this hum-along favorite with bigger sound and more abandon, but few with such clarity. In particular, Mullova's bowing was remarkably facile and sure, from clean, swift spiccato passages to long seamless legato lines.
More important, Mullova used her technical abilities to shape phrasings, which she has clearly re-thought. For example, she exposed a zesty folk dance, of almost Bartokian bite at times, beneath the fiddling fury of the finale.
Mullova played from an unusual position within the orchestra, facing conductor Andre Previn. Though her account had little of the common rubato mannerisms, there were still some moments of imprecision in the accompaniment.
The sound of it, however, was rich and full. Previn scaled the Los Angeles Philharmonic strings back a bit to accommodate Mullova's often dry tone, but nonetheless made a full partnership of the accompaniment, rather than merely a rhetorical frame.
The other half of the program was devoted to another of Previn's English enthusiasms, Walton's Symphony No. 1, in B-flat minor.
A big, flashy, traditionally ordered work begun in 1933 and completed in 1935, the symphony revives both the impertinent Walton of "Facade" and the heroic Walton of the film scores. It also suggests the generalized and superficial ruminations of a composer not altogether comfortable with serious abstraction, as well as the considerable influence of Sibelius and Mahler.
Previn's view of the piece was wonderfully direct and purposeful, especially considering the inherent temptations to bombast. There is nothing maudlin about the symphony, though, and Previn maintained balanced textures and rhythmic energy.
The Philharmonic served both composer and conductor well, with concentration and a lean, limber sound that rose to the brilliant climaxes as easily as it turned to melancholic introspection.
Previn, Mullova and the Los Angeles Philharmonic will repeat this program at 8 p.m. today at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. Tickets: $10 to $30. For information, call (714) 556-2787.