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Philharmonic Revives Copland's Third Symphony

April 24, 1999|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

How long is 53 years? It all depends. Bill Clinton, who was born in 1946, seems like a young man to many, but Aaron Copland's Third Symphony, a product of the same year, can seem old, even dated.

One of Copland's masterpieces, the Third sounded quaint when the Los Angeles Philharmonic took it out again for this week's subscription series. At the first performance, Thursday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, guest conductor Alan Gilbert, who wasn't born when the work was new (he is 32), brought exuberance, optimism and a sweeping clarity to the Philharmonic's energetic revival of a piece redolent with those qualities. Still, it didn't sound fresh.

The fault may be in us. All that unconditional brightness--spiritual and instrumental--can seem effusive to the jaded, near-cynical sensibilities of 1990s listeners.

The authoritative Gilbert clearly had no reservations in his affectionate and probing leadership of the symphony, and the Philharmonic played splendidly--also without restraint. One had to be grateful for a happy reminder of those naive times.

Music by Carl Ruggles and John Williams occupied the remainder of this all-U.S. agenda. "Men and Mountains" served as the bracing, craggy overture. It is a lively, assertive piece in which the brass take the lead and bright loudness sets the emotional tone. This aggressive but modulated performance was reportedly the Philharmonic's first.

At mid-program, Williams' 1995 bassoon concerto, colorfully titled "The Five Sacred Trees," proved a faceted showcase for longtime Philharmonic principal David Breidenthal, who met the work's challenges and projected its beauties persuasively.

Essentially three songful movements interrupted with gentle scherzos, the neo-Impressionistic piece demands an operative, resourceful yet quiet virtuosity from its soloist while keeping the orchestral accompaniment on an understated level. All demands were met.

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