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MUSIC REVIEW

Segerstam Leads Philharmonic in Murky Brahms at the Bowl

September 04, 1997|DANIEL CARIAGA

Missed opportunities abounded in Leif Segerstam's debut appearance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl Tuesday. He had a major Brahms program, a major orchestra and a serious soloist to work with, but the Finnish conductor-composer failed to impress as a podium personality. Perhaps he can return as a writer of music and have a deeper effect.

Brahms' First Piano Concerto, with the redoubtable pianist Stephen Kovacevich, plus the Third Symphony, certainly gave the 53-year-old Segerstam many chances to shine. However, he and the Philharmonic (uncharacteristically) turned in murky and unclarified performances.

Under Segerstam's leadership, Brahms' music lacked consistency and dynamic layering. Its manifest logic and inner line never emerged; instead, the composer's structure and buoyant musicality were more often than not buried in general heaviness and this most optimistic of composers came across as cranky and one-dimensional. Only near the end of the finale to the Third Symphony did the pall begin to lift, when conductor and orchestra briefly jelled.

Segerstam--a prolific composer who has written, among other items, nine cello concertos--also lacked subtlety in the D-minor Piano Concerto--a clear contrast to Kovacevich's irresistible laying-out of the work's beauties and tensile continuity.

The American pianist brought drama, detail and articulation to the work, unimpeded by the technicalities that challenge lesser keyboardists in this most demanding of concertos. He shaped every phrase handsomely and, without trivializing the work, removed its air of difficulty, leaving its serious content open to scrutiny. Segerstam, for his part, waved his arms wildly, creating louds and softs but seldom addressing in-between matters.

* The L.A. Philharmonic will again be conducted by Leif Segerstam--in a Sibelius-Richard Strauss program--tonight at 8:30 at the Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., (213) 850-2000. Tickets $1-$75.

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