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MUSIC REVIEW : New Frills at Philharmonic Opener

The Los Angeles Philharmonic took its season opener Thursday evening as an opportunity to glitter and be gay, with banners and revolving searchlights outside and flowers at the door for every woman. Inside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion there were novelties as well, including a polite gesture toward noise reduction in the form of free cough drops.

Some of the innovations seemed very familiar, however. In preseason advertising, the Philharmonic attempted to lure some of its huge summer audience into the winter season. Musically, the effort turned the Pavilion into Hollywood Bowl South, for one program at least.

There was an American flag on the flower-festooned stage. Andre Previn strode out, the orchestra rose, and the 1988-89 Philharmonic season began with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The surprised audience got up and managed a rusty vocal contribution to the proceedings. The demands of patriotism assuaged, and newcomers from the Bowl made to feel at home, the flag was quickly removed.

The program itself was a sort of Bowl encore, reprising music played there by Previn and Co. this summer, and then further polished during the orchestra’s tour of Japan earlier this month. It did serve to remind us, however, that Previn is a music director of wide-ranging tastes and talents.

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Previn was his own soloist in Mozart’s C-minor Piano Concerto. At first, his playing seemed strangely subdued, in what is usually taken as a vehicle for passionate expression. But after becoming acclimatized to its small sound and austere interpretive restraint, Previn’s approach proved capable of startling nuance within a context of uncommon nobility.

Previn’s compositional skill also figured into the performance through his fluent cadenzas. These provided sensitive, almost deferential reflections on the musical text, rather than occasions for technical ostentation.

As might be expected in music it has been playing for two months, a suitably reduced orchestra responded gracefully to Previn’s urgings. Balances favored the winds in a quietly glossy, almost overly sophisticated performance.

Equal polish was apparent in the playing of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Previn opened the season last year with Shostakovich’s 10th, and has demonstrated a real flair for making the composer’s sprawling forms and manic-depressive mood swings coherent and comprehendible.

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Previn kept a tight rein on the music, enforcing purposeful direction in the outer movements. He allowed the Scherzo its sardonic, capering leeway, and stretched the Largo into a taut, compelling distillation of Shostakovian pathos.

The Philharmonic gave composer and conductor its best, in playing ranging from ethereal to raucously dirty. Some moments of misintonation aside, this was an orchestral accomplishment of alluring breadth and convincing integrity.

The concert began--post National Anthem--with a quick, compulsive account of Berlioz’s “Le Corsaire” Overture, clean except for frantic passages from the woodwinds.


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