MUSIC REVIEW : Previn Conducts Brahms Requiem

Times Music Writer

Comparisons can be odious--but they are also inevitable.

For the third of the 12 programs he leads with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this season, music director Andre Previn has put together a provocative and exigent agenda: Benjamin Britten’s oft-neglected Sinfonia da Requiem (1940) and Johannes Brahms’ familiar “Ein Deutsches Requiem.”

Britten’s wondrous, purely instrumental, liturgically based canvas had not been heard on any Philharmonic concerts since 1971--when Lawrence Foster introduced it to subscribers.

But the Brahms Requiem, last performed at these concerts seven years ago, has long been a specialty--as are many Brahms works--of former music director Carlo Maria Giulini. On that occasion, in October, 1982, Giulini led it with an affecting and transcendent sense of calm (his soloists were Kathleen Battle and Sigmund Nimsgern). Thursday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center, the reading achieved by Previn and the Philharmonic, in collaboration with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists Dawn Upshaw and Thomas Hampson, went beyond tranquility and resignation, the emotional outer shell of the work.


In Previn’s aggressive but equally sensible approach, Brahms’ wide musical arch became bridged with contrasts, supported by myriad colorful details, integrated in its formal and textual resonances.

Though broad in scope, this performance never grew noisy or outspoken, never lacked for continuity. Previn shaped each of its movements in clear relationship to the others and paced the total masterfully.

The Philharmonic’s playing proved as inspired as its leader’s vision, and the L. A. Master Chorale, mellow and sumptuous in sound, textually sensitive, technically impeccable and abundant in legato, has seldom sung so tellingly.

In the baritone solos, Hampson brought to Brahms’ exposed challenges all the richness of tone, word connection and sensitivity to musical line that seem to characterize, with equal weight, his international opera and recital appearances. Upshaw’s pure and gorgeous sound, though not invariably used for text-coloration, added luster to the fifth-movement solo.

Before intermission, Previn and the orchestra gave a vehement, clarified and potent performance of the Sinfonia da Requiem, another touching installment in the conductor’s ongoing survey of Britten’s works.