Music Reviews : Vaughan Williams, Stucky Works at the Philharmonic

Whatever else one can say about the specialized repertory in which Andre Previn excels, his commitment and expertise in the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams is unquestioned.

Returning to the podium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic this week, Previn (and colleagues) revived the wondrous world of the Fifth Symphony, and masterfully put its beauties on display.

The Fifth, considered by some as the climax of the composer's traditional period, is a work of mellow thoughtfulness, of mood and mode and quiet seriousness. Its burnished tone, consistent through four contrasting but complementary movements, never flags; its rich evocation of a complex and multilayered emotional life grows more expansive, but not more dense, throughout what seems its perfect length.

Previn's sensitive reading stressed the continuity, not the disparateness, of Vaughan Williams' thought. Solo voices, like characters in a play, entered at what seemed just the right moments, made their contributions, and moved on. Hillocks of feeling marked the important peaks in each movement, those high points becoming part of the ongoing scenario. When it came, nothing could have felt more appropriate than the quiet ending of the work, so carefully and deftly had composer and conductor prepared that moment.

In the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Wednesday (repeats are scheduled through Saturday night), the orchestra's playing proved splendid: The Philharmonic strings produced a handsome choral blend; solo lines emerged characterful and nuanced; woodwinds and brass delivered potent but carefully modulated musical statements, entirely integrated in the sound-texture.

The rest of the program met a similar standard of thoroughness. At mid-point, flutist Anne Diener Giles and harpist Lou Anne Neill stepped out of their principals' roles in the orchestra to appear as soloists in Mozart's Concerto in C, K. 299. They gave a full-blooded performance of virtuosity and detail, and proved convincing even in the harmonically nomadic cadenzas devised for the work by conductor Previn, who presided over a solid accompaniment alertly.

The West Coast premiere of Steven Stucky's eight-minute-long "Son et Lumiere" opened the proceedings.

Like the Philharmonic composer-in-residence's Concerto for Orchestra heard last spring, this colorful musical canvas produces fascinating and exotic, and mostly tonal, sounds in imaginative combinations. It is quite attractive, consistently engaging. Written last year for the Baltimore Symphony, the brief tone-poem--one about colors, not emotions--ought to reach and entertain many listeners. It certainly seemed to do that for those at the Music Center Wednesday night.

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