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MUSIC REVIEW : Rockin' With the London Chamber Orchestra

October 31, 1994|TIMOTHY MANGAN

IRVINE — Don't invite the London Chamber Orchestra to your next tea party. The group, though founded in 1921, seems bent on juicing up the chamber orchestra scene, removing the stuffiness and adding a dose of rock 'n' roll.

Making another stop on its first United States tour at the Irvine Barclay Theatre Friday--the ensemble played at USC earlier in the week--the LCO showed its hand from the start. Its members are young, long-haired, slim and colorfully dressed. Music director Christopher Warren-Green goads his (mostly) standing ensemble from the concertmaster position with the jumpy energy of a rock singer egging on his drummer.

And it's not all appearances. For better or worse--it was mostly better on this occasion--this youthfulness and hipness makes its way into the performances. In a resonant program of Britten, Adams, Glass and Bartok, the ensemble charged through the music with physical aggression and rhythmic power.

The encore, the finale of Mozart's Divertimento, K. 136, suggested more than anything the limitations of this athletic approach: Played very quickly, it became a theatrical opportunity for fiddling madness and showy dynamics, surely not the sum of this music.

But in the chug-chug minimalism of Adams' 25-minute "Shaker Loops" and Glass' 9-minute "Company," the playing took on a thrilling and appropriate mechanistic quality, with heavy, steely, speedy sawing, rhythmic snazziness and coloristic effects not limited to beautiful ones.

The 13-member string ensemble (the touring configuration) plays with taut precision and, matched evenly from top to bottom, produces a remarkably big sound. Its exaggerated musicianship may have pumped up Britten's Simple Symphony beyond what's called for by the characterful movement titles, but the total involvement of Warren-Green and his players precludes merely pleasant run-throughs.

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