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MUSIC REVIEW : Previn Makes Much of Dreamy Waltzes, Technicolored Gush

November 14, 1987|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music Critic

Andre Previn is about to leave the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a couple of months. Foreign conquests beckon.

Under the circumstances, he chose a particularly canny program for his temporary farewell this week. In a concert built around the things he does best, he suggested that his fleeting absence actually could make the local heart grow fonder.

The evening began with a cautious but endearing gesture in the direction of mainstream modernism: the West Coast premiere of Steven Stucky's "Dreamwaltzes."

This was followed by the poignant brooding of Bloch's "Schelomo," a sensitively accompanied showpiece for Daniel Rothmuller, associate principal cellist of the orchestra.

Finally, for the post-intermission piece de resistance , Previn once again luxuriated--tastefully, of course--in the meandering, Technicolored pathos of Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony.

In each of these dissimilar challenges, he got the Philharmonic to play with high degrees of power and precision, with rare refinement and flashes of brilliance. For long stretches, he made our orchestra sound like a great orchestra. One cannot invariably make claims like that on Thursday nights at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

In his "Dreamwaltzes," Gebrauchsmusik provided last year for the Minnesota Orchestra, Stucky ventured a gentle in-joke in quest of a lilting three-quarter-time tradition. The composer, now 38, invoked mercurial ghosts of Brahms, Mahler, Schubert and Richard Strauss--and, perhaps, Johann too.

Stucky stitched together some familiar hesitant phrases, a few instantly recognized fanfares, motivic fragments made quizzical by unfulfilled harmonic allusions. Sometimes the wittily quoted sources proved self-explanatory. Sometimes they remained coy about their identity. In any case, the 15-minute exercise emerged as a clever, affectionate collage that puts some old stylistic skeletons through provocative new paces.

In his program note the composer seemed almost apologetic about being so accessible. He cited the current "obsession with past musical styles," then rejected that obsession. "In the long run, these trends do not interest me much because I am convinced that creativity cannot flourish in the past tense."

Maybe not. But "Dreamwaltzes" left little doubt that past-tense creativity, when applied with craft and imagination, can be amusing as well as engaging.

Previn and the orchestra flirted appreciatively with the inherent Schlag and high-class schlock.

In "Schelomo," Rothmuller's expressive restraint ennobled Bloch's soulful lyricism and religious mysticism. This "Hebrew Rhapsody" may hold a special appeal for the soloist. His late father, the celebrated baritone Marko Rothmuller, happened to be a pioneering expert on the history, development and sociological significance of Jewish music.

The cellist sang with urgency and poise, with slender tone and bel-canto grace. It obviously runs in the family.

In the ultimate, unexpurgated Rachmaninoff orgy, Previn did his heroic best to sustain tension in the face of symphonic sprawl, to maintain calm despite the threat of emotive excess.

He gave us Rachmaninoff's expansive power, wherever possible, without his overwrought sentiment. The slush threatened to spill over a bit at the climax of the Adagio. That was unavoidable. For the most part, however, Previn managed to keep the bombast taut, the drama tight, the rhetoric elegant.

It isn't easy.

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