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Critic's Picks : Music

September 04, 1997|MARK SWED

In the '50s, it was still possible to title a novel "Aimez-vous Brahms?" and make loving the composer sound ever so hip and fatally romantic. Brahms was plenty played in those days, but not to the point of saturation as he is now. So Nov. 1, when the newly knighted British conductor and early music specialist Roger Norrington begins his two-day cycle of the four Brahms symphonies with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, you may feel that you've already had quite enough Brahms, thank you, this year of commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death. But there is nothing more satisfying than sweeping away cobwebs, and that is exactly what Norrington has been doing in his march through music history, which so far has taken him from the Baroque to Brahms.

Norrington is a scholar who likes to dance more than study, I suspect, and his Brahms is lithe, more balanced to nasal winds than clotted strings, utterly fresh sounding, even modern. Just because some people insist that Brahms was the last great classicist among the classical composers doesn't mean the old boy couldn't put down his cigar, kick up his feet and shake his thick beard.

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