Music Reviews : Previn at Piano With Philharmonic Players

What's in a name? The title Los Angeles Philharmonic Chamber Music Society could hardly sound more forbidding. Yet the group's Monday night concert in Gindi Auditorium at the University of Judaism was a joy from first note to last.

The public seems to have a sense about such things, to the point where the hall was packed and extra seats had to be arranged along the side of the stage.

The fact that Andre Previn, the music director of the Philharmonic, was to participate as a pianist in two major works may have had something to do with the response. It should have, at least, for Previn is an ensemble pianist par excellence. He functions in a chamber ensemble as if that were his main business in life, and conducting possibly a minor preoccupation.

His ear for balance and proportion is unerring. There is never too much or too little of anything. He never competes; he is the constant collaborator, and his musical instincts are as highly polished as his technique.

His strengths and those of Janet Ferguson, a principal flutist with the Philharmonic since 1985, found memorable employment in Schubert's marvelous Introduction and Variations on "Trockne Blumen." The work is a constant effusion of genius, one of the greatest in the Schubert catalogue.

Previn and Ferguson gave it a performance worthy of its stature. Ferguson produced warm tone and stared down the technical problems as if they were non-existent, making the instrument sing with the intensity of a dedicated Lied singer. The pianist's problems are equally demanding, and Previn mastered the complexities with his habitual suavity. Even a Horowitz could have taken pride in some of his technical feats.

Previn was also a vitalizing force in Beethoven's Quintet in E flat, Opus 16. Previn and his colleagues--Barbara Winters, oboe; Lorin Levee, clarinet; Patricia Kindel, bassoon, and William Lane, horn--delivered the piece in sparkling style; idiomatic, free of academic intrusion and always rhythmically alert. The profound Andante Cantabile was especially memorable.

Beethoven likewise opened the evening, with the seldom played, early sextet in E flat, Opus 81b. It was delineated in excellent style--not as exuberantly as in the quintet, but a pleasant observance nonetheless--with Lane and Brian Drake on horns; Irving Geller and Mark Kashpar, violins; Meredith Snow, viola; and Mary Louise Zeyen, cello.

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