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MUSIC REVIEW : Salonen Proves That More Can Be More

October 14, 1995|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

Esa-Pekka Salonen devoted his second subscription program of the Philharmonic season, Thursday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, to little music of Mozart and big music of Bruckner. Big was better.

In this context, Mozart served merely as curtain raiser. And the curtain wasn't raised quite in the manner expected.

Richard Goode had been heralded as soloist for the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, K. 595. Fate intervened in the form of a tendinitis attack. At concert time, the pianist turned out to be Alexei Lubimov, and the concerto was No. 24 in C-minor, K. 491.

The change wasn't drastic. The performance, unfortunately, wasn't memorable.

Lubimov, a thinking-person's pianist from Moscow, is extraordinarily versatile. He specializes in authentic re-creation of early music, yet also champions the avant-garde. We heard him twice in Los Angeles last season--first as a modernist under the Green Umbrella, then as a sensitive accompanist for Peter Schreier in Schubert's "Winterreise."

Given his background, one expected something special in his Mozart. Perhaps it would be wildly original. Perhaps it would be exquisitely stylish. No such luck. It turned out to be merely dutiful.

The notes were all in place. The pianist's dexterity was impressive. His spirit was obviously willing.

Unfortunately, one heard little dynamic variety and minimal play with light and shade. The miraculous lyricism of the larghetto emerged loud and dull, the sprightly finale almost mechanical. Although Lubimov's choice of the splashy Hummel cadenzas proved intriguing, the realization didn't make the splashes seem organic.

Many of the ongoing problems could be traced to the podium. Salonen beat time briskly and pleasantly, as always. He showed hardly any concern for expressive communication, however, and supported the keyboard protagonist inflexibly at best.

Mozart's intimate impulses eluded the maestro. The extrovert impulses of Bruckner's mighty Fourth Symphony, a.k.a. "Romantic," did not.

Salonen is known for his cool, analytical restraint. Brucker is recognized as a master of massive, overwrought rhetoric. Logic would not suggest that this conductor and this composer were made for each other. Logic, however, can be blissfully illogical.

Bruckner built the emotion, gnarled though it may be, into his orchestral fabric. Some conductors exaggerate the obvious and, in the process, make the music sound cheap. Salonen understates the obvious and, in the process, lets the music speak for itself.

On this occasion, it spoke with extraordinary power and propulsion. The conductor refused to dawdle over minutiae, refused to slow down for the zonking climaxes, refused, in passing, to underscore points that he knew the composer would stress soon enough via repetition.

Salonen kept his eye on the grandiose line. For 73 minutes he managed to sustain energy without slighting tension en route to the ultimate resolution. This was not the broader-than-life Bruckner of a Furtwangler, Knappertsbusch or Klemperer. It was a young man's Bruckner--vibrant, minimally sentimental, eminently gutsy. It made good sense on its own terms.

The Philharmonic may have seemed a bit somnolent in the modest Mozart. But it played Bruckner with constant vitality, and frequent brilliance. Only a pedant could have been bothered by the occasional technical blemish.

Sometimes more is more.

* Concert to be repeated at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., tonight at 8 and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. $6-$58. (213) 850-2000.

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