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    02/23/2001 - Friday - Page B 27

    California Dreaming
    San Francisco Symphony brightens Stravinsky's luster

    SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY. Music by Stravinsky. Stephanie Cosserat, narrator.

    Susan Narucki, soprano. Nadezhda Serdjuk, mezzo-soprano. Viktor Lutsjuk and Stuart Neill, tenor. Sergei Aleksashkin, bass. San Francisco Symphony Chorus and American Boychoir, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Attended Wednesday night, Carnegie Hall. The San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas also perform tonight at Tilles Center, C.W. Post campus, Brookville.

    THIRTY YEARS AFTER his death, it's finally getting easier to think of Igor Stravinsky, who spent his late decades in Hollywood, as a Californian composer.

    With Esa-Pekka Salonen at the head of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Michael Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony, the West Coast has claimed Stravinsky as a local, turning out some of the most limber performances of his music around and reminding audiences that he was still producing works of brilliance well after "The Rite of Spring." On Wednesday at Carnegie Hall, Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony inaugurated an extended double festival of Stravinsky's music (Salonen and his Angelenos arrive next month for the Lincoln Center portion) with a concert that was solemn, sprightly and lavish. No fewer than three large-scale choral works issued forth from the densely populated stage, and still the textures stayed light and the rhythms buoyant. There are more technically impeccable ensembles, but Tilson Thomas has endowed his orchestra with an unmistakable sense of body, loft and three-dimensional space. Even the most massive pieces sound agile and aerodynamic.

    The concert opened with the 1933 choral drama "Perséphone," a neoclassical work largely ignored by the public and beloved by many musicians that shows Stravinsky at his most precious and patrician. It comes in a curious form, with a tenor Pluto (majestically sung by Stuart Neill), a speaking Perséphone (overdone by Stephanie Cosserat) and a luscious choral narration.

    For my taste, it is a piece of musical Wedgwood china-beautiful, Attic, graceful, and dramatically inert-but it was done with love and style. The night belonged to the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, which sang Stravinsky's luminous chords with unforced precision and tender strength.

    (The system providing the supertitles died after only a couple of minutes, leaving most of André Gide's copious verbiage blessedly incomprehensible.

    Stravinsky would have doubtlessly have been pleased since, as he told the chagrined Gide, he preferred to set only syllables, beautiful, strong syllables.) The second half was even more generous: the "Symphony of Psalms" and an unusual rendition of "Les Noces," ("The Wedding") in all the festive Russian raucousness of the 1917 original, before Stravinsky gave it more concert-hall gravitas. Scored for a quartet of singers (here, happily, almost all Russians), a pared-down orchestra lopsided toward winds and brass, made jangly by the presence of a cimbalom and celebratory by bass drum and triangles, this "Wedding" jangles with the sounds of a Russian small town.

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