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Sixty Candles, Two Orchestras, Three Soloists

Music review: Zubin Mehta returns to a former orchestral home to celebrate his birthday before a glittering crowd.

May 01, 1996|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He can still fill the house. Easily. Even at inflated, benefit prices.

He can bring in stellar soloists. Two orchestras won't mind sharing the stage under his direction. A Hollywood film star will introduce the program and a film composer will jump in to write a surprise encore just for him.

And the whole Dorothy Chandler Pavilion audience, glittering as it rarely has before, joins in singing "Happy Birthday."

Who else but Zubin Mehta could throw such a party?

The former Los Angeles Philharmonic music director (1962-1978) came back to preside over the orchestra for his 60th birthday celebration concert on the date, April 29, he was born in Bombay in 1936.

He also brought the Israel Philharmonic, over which he was appointed "music director for life" in 1981, pianist Daniel Barenboim, violinist Itzhak Perlman and violist Pinchas Zukerman as soloists.

The concert, hosted by a joke-cracking Walter Matthau, was a benefit for the pension funds of both orchestras.

Barenboim made a rare, if brief local appearance conducting as well. If records serve true, he hasn't led an orchestra on the Pavilion stage since 1972.

John Williams turned up at encore time to conduct both orchestras in his short "Happy Birthday Variations" written for the occasion. Modeled on Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra," it allots witty, wacky, dissonant versions of the birthday tune to each instrumental group before playing it straight with the whole band, and with audience sing-along, at the end.

It may have been the most spirited playing of the evening.

Elsewhere, everybody seemed to be on automatic pilot. Very nice automatic pilot, to be sure. But when you consider the musical treasures on the program, you'd hope for a little bit more.

Perlman and Zukerman played the solos in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante sweetly and without trying exactly to mirror each other's interpretations. Zukerman expressed more angst, Perlman more solace. Mehta minimized the contribution the orchestra--the Israel Philharmonic--might have made.

Barenboim proved a bright and agile soloist in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Los Angeles musicians. He also opened the concert by conducting the Israelis in a weighty but tame account of Beethoven's "Leonore" Overture No. 3.

Mehta also conducted the home team in the Overture to Weber's "Oberon" and both orchestras in the Suite No. 2 from Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe."

His interpretations remain generalized, broad, splashy and stylistically indifferent to the various composers. He still is prone to allow sloppy articulations and to indulge in vulgar accents.

None of this is news, and none of it matters one iota to his fans, who are legion.

You could tell by the roars at the end.

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