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MUSIC REVIEW : Previn and Watts: Dinner With Two Andres at Hollywood Bowl

Times Music Critic

The conspicuously consuming, ultracompetitive picnickers at Hollywood Bowl had dinner with a couple of Andres Tuesday night.

An Andre named Previn, who happens to be music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, took his podium for the first time this summer, trailing 16--count ‘em, 16--guest-maestros. Another Andre, this one a pianist called Watts, came along to play the “Emperor” Concerto.

The program, a standard Brahms-Strauss-Beethoven menu, didn’t cause either protagonist much strain. But it did please an easily pleased audience of 10,988. And it did serve, at least in part, as a useful warm-up exercise for the tour that will take the orchestra to Japan for 12 concerts beginning Sept. 22.

After some silly throat-clearing with the National Anthem--led by the winner of a conducting contest sponsored by a local radio station--Previn presided over a suitably splashy performance of Brahms’ “Academic Festival” Overture. Then he turned, as he will again in Tokyo, to the mock-mystical sprawl of “Tod und Verklarung.”

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He slighted neither the lush sonorities nor the broad dynamics of Strauss’ tone poem. Despite a few moments of ruffled cohesion, the Philharmonic played with massive bravura for the boss. Still, there were frustrations.

In his tasteful quest for clarity, Previn played down the sheer sensuality of the piece. Even more damaging, he allowed tension to dissipate in the shameless extended crescendo that leads to the final, delayed, whomping climax.

In the Beethoven concerto, after intermission, Previn provided a rather taut orchestral frame for his soloist’s romantic indulgences. The stress was on exuberance rather than nobility.

Watts gave a curiously uneven performance, seemingly inspired one moment and perfunctory the next. He dealt in poetry when it came to minutely controlled scale passages, perfectly poised networks of trills and delicately whispered pianissimo phrases. In the heroic outbursts, however, he reverted to prose.

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Here he tended to pound, and the tone became either dull or strident. It is difficult to gauge how much of the problem should be attributed to the pianist, how much to those ever-dastardly microphones, and how much to the Yamaha piano Watts now favors. Lofty achievement, in any case, fell short of lofty intention.

Maybe next time. . . .


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