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MUSIC REVIEW : Memorable Work From Nixon, Stein

April 21, 1993|HERBERT GLASS

It was party time Monday at the Los Angeles County Museum's Bing Theater when soprano Marni Nixon and pianist-conductor Leonard Stein gathered together and displayed the wisdom gained over 40 years of performing together.

It was also a Monday Evening Concerts retrospective of sorts, much of the music heard having been introduced to local audiences during the half-century-plus of that invaluable series.

But it was hardly a funny-hats-and-noisemakers party, not with the likes of Schoenberg, Webern, Dallapiccola and latter-years Stravinsky providing the entertainment. And beginning with the lengthy ruminations of Schoenberg's two-piano version of his Second Chamber Symphony, played with dogged earnestness by Delores Stevens and Stein, this strategy proved unwise.

But for the duration it was the Marni and Leonard show, and it was wonderful.

The years have been kind to the youthful-looking Nixon, and she has been kind to her voice, which showed more than a semblance of the bright, flutey instrument--deployed with striking intelligence--that has graced such a remarkable breadth of 20th-Century styles.

There were inevitable moments of thinning-out and upper-register strain, as in Krenek's two Gerard Manley Hopkins settings. Yet reserves of strength were summoned late in the evening for the prismatic Stefan George settings of Webern's Opus 3, with Stein's pianism creating an enchanted atmospheric backdrop.

Elsewhere, William Bolcom's pair of catchy songs to poems of Richard Tillinghast, written specifically for Monday's concert, proved neatly tailored to Nixon's present skills.

But for this listener, the evening's memorable moments were provided in Ravel's gloriously sexy (and barely, if ever, tonal) Mallarme Songs for voice and nine instruments, to which Nixon brought an unexpected--and altogether ravishing--duskiness of timbre and the expected verbal pointedness.

Support was provided by an ensemble enlisting some of the area's top chamber players, conducted by Stein.

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