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A Tall Order of Brahms and Strauss

May 06, 2000|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

Goliaths of the symphonic repertory, Brahms' D-minor Piano Concerto and Richard Strauss' swollen "Ein Heldenleben" are bigger-than-life pieces that probably don't belong on the same program.

Yet there they are, this week, together on the agenda of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's two performances led by guest conductor Jeffrey Tate. In the performance Thursday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the diminished impact of each made the programming problem innocuous.

The Brahms First Piano Concerto was dominated, of course, by the soloist, in this case the familiar, ever-resourceful and solidly reliable Emanuel Ax.

He played it seriously and as effortlessly as one can imagine; he earned abundant admiration but conjured up few thrills. The demonic nature, the life-and-death aura of this masterpiece simply never materialized. On the other hand, the listener at no point worried about Ax's resounding triumph over the notes.

Tate and the orchestra provided decent collaboration without achieving the high drama and emotional urgency that lives in this score.

Strauss' "A Hero's Life"--as a most amusing pre-concert speaker, Eric Bromberger, pointed out--is quite long but very short on good taste. In fact, it's tawdry, kitschy, overwritten and, to some, virtually endless.

Tate led a foursquare reading that did not succeed at making this sprawling piece cohesive or narratively clear but rather emphasized its fragmentary quality. The orchestra played well, but without the heat and inspiration it has brought to other performances of the same work.

*

* The L.A. Philharmonic, with conductor Jeffrey Tate and pianist Emanuel Ax, repeats this program in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Sunday at 2:30 p.m. $15-$70. (323) 850-2000.

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