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Music Review

Old, New Symphonies Blend Comfortably

May 03, 1999|RICHARD S. GINELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With Chinese conductor Zuohuang Chen on its podium Saturday night, the Long Beach Symphony offered a West Coast premiere from its Commissioning Consortium project to lead off the three works on its concert program. But there was little to fear at the Terrace Theater, for Margaret Brouwer's Symphony No. 1 ("Lake Voices") fit comfortably with its companions written decades and more than a century before.

Brouwer's symphony is actually a tone poem of sorts, a one-movement work that tries to meditate on the beauties of a lake, as well as the threat to its existence posed by pollution. It unfolded in a perfectly arching shape for nearly 18 minutes, draped with attractive, often glittering sonorities and marked by repetitive processes that indeed suggested the stasis of a lake's surface. One could sense a tinge of sadness in some of the simple, lushly harmonized tunes, but if there were any real emotional depths in this lake, they would have to emerge in further hearings.

The orchestra's heavy string tone was a good match for Brouwer's music, and Chen also found it tempting to apply that tone to his performances of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony and Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. In the Rhapsody, pianist Robert Thies' ruminative approach was often overwhelmed by the thick orchestral texture, with the notable exception of the crucial 18th variation, but he could still display plenty of technique and intelligence. (Thies also will appear on the "Sundays at Two" series at the Beverly Hills Library on May 23.)

Chen's finest achievement in the otherwise routine Mendelssohn performance was the natural, unexaggerated singing manner in which he shaped the third movement.

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