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Music Review

Conductor Conlon Makes a Welcome Return

April 27, 2002|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a long absence from Los Angeles, the American conductor James Conlon returned this week for four performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He conducted the orchestra during three consecutive summers, 1978-80, at the Hollywood Bowl, but he had not appeared at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion until Thursday night.

His Russian program on this occasion revealed what his European-made reputation has long promised: a masterly conductor of mature sensibilities--the New York-born musician is now 52--accomplished craft and deep, communicative skills. The orchestra gave Conlon all the respect he deserved.

The Prelude and Finale to Mussorgsky's opera, "Khovanshchina," in the Shostakovich orchestration, introduced the conductor's penchant for revealing telling contrasts and arching phrases, as well as the niceties of uncovered inner voices.

The program's conclusion was Conlon's own arrangement--in dramatic order--of a suite from Shostakovich's "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk," the work Conlon has called "the most important Russian opera of the 20th century."

This kaleidoscopic orchestral performance lived up to the rhetoric; it was multicolored, violent, compellingly dramatic, brilliant and seductive. The orchestra played up to its best powers, screeching climaxes were matched by ethereal lyricism, and solo lines supported the dramatic narrative.

The soloist of the evening, Sarah Chang, played Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the virtuosic flair and solid technique previous visits have made us come to expect from her. Still, the tone she makes is not invariably handsome--her sounds in the heart of the piece, the Canzonetta, seemed perfunctory. And she shows some distracting mannerisms--kicking the floor, bending her knees, in her tight, glittery gown.

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