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MUSIC REVIEW : Two Conductors in Green Umbrella Series

Oliver Knussen may still be afflicted with the mystery malady that has kept him from honoring his commitments for more than three weeks--he’s “a bit overworked,” his New York representative said--but the program he concocted for the Green Umbrella series went on as scheduled. On relatively short notice, Robert Black and Rand Steiger replaced Knussen at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group at the Japan America Theatre on Monday.

Steiger, the Philharmonic’s assistant composer-in-residence, inherited Danish composer Poul Ruders’ “Corpus cum Figuris,” which he had conducted a month ago in San Diego. A big work in every sense, “Corpus” made a heavy, imposing climax.

Built in three large, palpable sections, the piece begins in ominous brooding, with sinous string polyphony growing into an implacable march for the full, 20-piece ensemble. It ends in a frenetic series of iterative, wind and percussion exclamation points.

In between, alas, are arid stretches of abstract motivic manipulation, interlarded with quasi-Minimal asides. These passages stall, but do not derail, the progress of the piece, which ultimately generates massive power.

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The performance was taut and well balanced. “Corpus” makes considerable instrumental and ensemble demands--the high, hard-hitting trumpet solos, forcefully played by Donald Green, for example--and all were capably met.

The rest of the program fell to Black, music director of several symphonic and chamber ensembles in New York. He began with the local premiere of the ". . . entre pausas furiosas . . .” section of “Geometry and Delirium,” an evolving work by Jay Alan Yim, a Los Angeles native now teaching at Northwestern University.

The title comes from a prose poem by Octavio Paz, and the short piece does provide vivid, though not necessarily very involving, aural images. Despite the proliferation of microphones, however, it does not have the processed production sheen the composer describes. In fact, the amplification distorted balances without adding much body to the dissonant frenzy.

Toru Takemitsu’s “Tree Line,” composed for the 20th anniversary of the London Sinfonietta last year, is a typically colorful, lovingly scored soundscape. It was given just the right amount of passionate understatement by Black and the ensemble, ending with a poignant off-stage oboe solo from Carolyn Hove.

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Takemitsu’s Impressionistic 1982 “Rain Coming,” in an equally fluent and absorbing account, completed the program.


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