For symmetry, at least, a program pairing the Fourth Symphonies of Mendelssohn and Brahms would be hard to beat. It would be spare, perhaps to the point of austerity, and certainly familiar, but undeniably compact and architecturally balanced.
Saturday evening at Orange County Performing Arts Center, Andre Previn and the Los Angeles Philharmonic opened the Orange County Philharmonic Society's B series with just such a less-is-more program.
Somehow, it wasn't--more, that is. There were many things the concert was, and many of them quite positive. But there was also a sense of something missing.
Not a soloist; symphonic programs can readily dispense with an exercise in accompanying, and what better time to focus attention squarely on conductor and orchestra than at the beginning of the season. But something compelling then is needed to awaken that attention, either unfamiliar and/or epic repertory, or a demanding reinterpretation of more usual works.
The Brahms Fourth is a recurrent feature of the opening weeks of the Philharmonic's season. The determined fan, in fact, could hear it seven times, on three different agendas.
Previn's way with it was certainly personal, to a degree. He took the first movement somewhat slower than is common, and the spaciousness gave it a sense of inexorable sweep, of noble spirits resigned to bittersweet fate.
In the middle movements, he allowed the score its natural progression to warmth, glee and triumph. Even in the jubilation of the Scherzo, however, there was a feeling of holding back and control, which became overtly rigorous in the passacaglia finale.
In the Mendelssohn, Previn stressed the quick and the crisp in the outer movements, with the inner ones less well defined, though no less brisk. He brought lyric charm and welcome rhythmic snap to the music, in an earnest reading characterized by energetic poise.
The Philharmonic played for Previn with enthusiasm and vitality, possibly due in equal measure to affection and respect for the music and the conductor, and to the rejuvenating effect of the month off since the Hollywood Bowl season ended. In any case, the orchestra gave of its best, well burnished in the flattering Segerstrom Hall acoustic.
And the Philharmonic's best has become--again--very good indeed. The orchestra shares some of the lean sound, and clean textures, that are prevalent in this the CD era. But there is a depth and breadth to the playing as well, which is not so common.
The results Saturday were fine, appreciable performances of very familiar--granted, deservedly so--pieces. Perhaps that is all we should ask of a concert. The capacity crowd in Segerstrom Hall certainly applauded ardently enough.
But to one listener, it seemed a very timid gesture for a major orchestra, at a time of the year when big, bold steps are expected.