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Music Reviews : Lowenthal Plays Newly Discovered Liszt Concerto

August 07, 1990|JOHN HENKEN

It seems that Franz Liszt wrote three piano concertos, circa 1839. The two we know he later revised, performed and published, while their sibling was left forgotten in subsequently dispersed manuscripts--until musicologist Jay Rosenblatt discovered and assembled them last winter. The new/old work, now the Piano Concerto No. 3 in E-flat, was premiered in Chicago in May.

Sunday, pianist Jerome Lowenthal and the enterprising forces of the Music Academy of the West gave the first West Coast performance of the piece, on a characteristically rich and varied program, in the sold-out Lobero Theatre of Santa Barbara.

Beyond the excitement of discovery and the imperatives of research, the exhumation raises many questions. On an intellectual level are the ethical-aesthetic issues of creative rights, while more practically one might wonder about the need for another Liszt piano concerto when the two we have are hardly overworked.

This one, however--ignoring Liszt's feelings about it--could be the pick of the litter. Like the others it is in one compact, substantial movement, though it is the most novel in form. It also moves far beyond Romantic rhetoric into the rarefied realm of articulate instrumental drama.

It received eloquent championship from Lowenthal in a vivid, compelling performance. There are plenty of fireworks in the piece, which he ignited with big attacks, but Lowenthal also allowed a quieter voice to be heard, one pleading and rhapsodic. He insinuated as well asserted, giving the outbursts greater vehemence in contrast, and let the structure evolve organically.

Lowenthal also enriched the long program with a clean, clear, wonderfully lithe and expressive account of Mozart's Rondo in D, K. 382.

Lawrence Leighton Smith and the Festival Orchestra were active partners in both concerted works, supporting sensitively and rising in powerful argument when needed. The sound of the young orchestra, filling the cramped Lobero stage to bursting, could be raw at times, but never flaccid or unmotivated.

Smith and his charges invested Mozart's "Prague" Symphony, K. 504, with abundant energy, in a reading pointed firmly forward at all times. At the end of the afternoon they turned in a colorfully swooning, ardently dancing performance of the Second Suite from Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe."

From the Academy ranks came 24-year-old conductor David Wiley to lead Elliott Carter's difficult Variations for Orchestra. He launched it with great authority in the darkling, often thunderous mysteries of the Introduction and Theme, and kept the diffuse, abstruse chamber music of the nine variations gamely together, if not thoroughly convincing or polished.

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