The UK/LA Festival looms next month, with its promise of much British music. But Andre Previn and the Los Angeles Philharmonic have never needed an excuse to import such works.
Thursday evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Previn and Co. introduced Sir Michael Tippett's 33-year-old Piano Concerto to a West Coast audience, with the solo duties assigned to Emanuel Ax.
One first impression of Tippett's Concerto was: Goodness, what a lot of notes. The long, steadfastly busy piece is a veritable sound factory, with some part of the workforce almost always chugging away diligently, producing comprehensive stocks of general-purpose musical goods.
But until the vigorous, varied finale arrived, the results sounded rather wholesale, neatly sorted and shelved in Tippett's Classically modeled structures. His conservative tonal style is not without character, but in the first movement particularly, the music seemed cranked out just to fill in the form.
Much of the soloist's difficult, decidedly unflashy work sounded either accompanimental or decorative. Relying on the score, Ax gave a careful, reticent account of it, handling the technical points fastidiously but finding little occasion for any show of musical emotion.
That changed in the finale, where Tippett abandons tasteful rumination for energetic populism. Ax played it boldly and brilliantly, creating welcome excitement while maintaining a feeling of proportion and purpose.
Many of the Concerto's lyrical claims are stated in the orchestra, with numerous important though fleeting solos. For the most part, Philharmonic principals urged them suavely, though intonation occasionally proved problematic.
Previn kept the Concerto progressing evenly. The balances that frequently submerged Ax's' efforts in the orchestral wash seemed the intent of the composer, rather than any misjudgment of the performance.
After intermission, Previn turned to Dvorak's Seventh Symphony. From the first stern notes, it was clear that this was to be a grandly serious version of the familiar work. It was not exactly rethought, but rather renewed, with fresh, committed spirits.
Previn persuaded the Philharmonic to play with passion and precision. There was little hint of routine in the crisp, balanced performance. Indeed, it attained rare nobility at times, with the big tunes directed to climaxes of authority and grandeur.
The evening began with a bright, brassy reading of Dvorak's rarely encountered Overture, "My Home," a heroic transformation of two Czech folk tunes into a Beethovenian mini-epic.