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MUSIC REVIEW : Zukerman, Previn in Rozsa Premiere

January 16, 1988|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music Critic

Andre Previn returned to his podium at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Thursday for an evening of rather bland music, brilliantly performed.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic played with unflagging virtuosity for its self-effacing music director. The performances were showy or refined, as needed. They were precisely articulated, rich in texture, extraordinarily flexible in dynamic and linear focus.

The programming, unfortunately, wasn't exactly fraught with excitement.

To begin the concert, Previn turned to the impressionistic doodles, symphonic splashes and dancerly flourishes of Jacques Ibert's "Escales." There is much style here and little substance, but the picturesque Gallic muse was well served.

To close the concert, Previn chose to re-roast Mendelssohn's old "Italian" chestnut, the Symphony No. 4.

No new insights were disclosed on this occasion--actually, one wonders if any new insights remain to be disclosed--and Previn did not probe for much expressive subtlety. He did inspire an elegant performance, however, notable for classical clarity and poise. He did enforce nimble momentum, vivid contrasts and delicate phrasing, especially in the wispy fairy music of the third movement.

The centerpiece of the program took the somewhat rambling form of Miklos Rozsa's Viola Concerto. Written in 1979, it was first performed five years later by the Pittsburgh Symphony under Previn. The soloist was Pinchas Zukerman, who repeated the honors here.

Rozsa has given us a comfortable, easy-to-take exercise that transports old-fashioned movie music to the concert hall. He is the undoubted master of this specialized craft. His lush, romantic, theatrically apt scores for "Spellbound," "Lust for Life" and "Quo Vadis," among other Technicolored triumphs, assure his place in cinematic history.

His symphonic pieces, however, have proven less endearing, and, thus far, less enduring. Divorced from the elaborate screen images, Rozsa's ultraconservative musical ideas and impulses tend to sound banal.

The Viola Concerto is meticulously structured and nicely balanced. It vacillates gracefully between the heroic and the intimate gesture. It is generously spiced with the rhetoric of the Magyar melos. It asks much of its soloist, and little of its audience.

For all its soulful ruminating, automatic meandering and earnest toe-tapping, however, it really doesn't go very far. The concerto deals primarily in second-hand effects that are cloaked in lush but murky orchestral cliches. When the climaxes come--regularly, in each of the four movements--the impact seems mechanical rather than organic.

One has to admire the high degree of workmanship here, and regret the low degree of invention. One also has to admire the simple eloquence of Zukerman's solo performance and the sensitivity of Previn's accompaniment.

The composer, frail at 81, acknowledged the friendly applause from an aisle seat near the stage.

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