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MUSIC REVIEWS : Vasary With L.A. Chamber Orchestra


To and from the podium of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra guest conductors come and go, but few seem to take as much pleasure in the trip as the latest one, Tamas Vasary. The Hungarian-born, Swiss conductor-pianist returned to that spot, Thursday night at Ambassador Auditorium, and is scheduled to close a three-day visit to the ensemble tonight, back in Pasadena.

One of the reasons is Vasary's elegant but accessible pops program, sort of a Hungarian sandwich, the filling familiar pieces by Bartok and Kodaly, the bread two standard works by Felix Mendelssohn.

Another is the palpable and ostensibly genuine rapport between the lean, wiry, 59-year-old conductor and the sympathetic, ever-accommodating players of this orchestra. Perhaps all the public affection being demonstrated during many bows after these performances did not constitute a full-fledged love feast--they certainly indicated an unreserved mutual admiration between the principals.

Vasary was right to be pleased. At the end of this program, the orchestra gave him a joyous, deeply felt, virtually immaculate reading of Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony, one that delivered all the outer beauties, and many of the inner workings, of this still-wondrous work.

The players--including most of the first-desk soloists (violinist Ralph Morrison, clarinetist Gary Gray, piccolo player Susan Greenberg and hornist Richard Todd, among others)--also produced splendid, if more scrappy, performances of Bartok's Rumanian Folk Dances and Kodaly's "Dances From Galanta" with energy and enthusiasm.

At the beginning of the program, Vasary was his own soloist in Mendelssohn's G-minor Concerto, leading it from the piano.

Only the doubling of duties seemed to come between the pianist's authoritative technique and the conductor's need for control; while he played the slow movement exquisitely and with finer detailing than most others, Vasary proved, in the otherwise stylishly and virtuosically played outer movements, distracted by himself.

The audience may have also been cheated: With its lid removed, the Hamburg Steinway sat, upstage from the audience, its keyboard horizontal to the back wall, the soloist-conductor facing the orchestra and that wall, reducing pianistic resonance noticeably.

This concert, like the ones last weekend, were dedicated by the players of the Chamber Orchestra to the memory of their late colleague, cellist Nils Oliver, who died in March, 1992.

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