As if to prove that the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles does not exist exclusively for the annual laying on of Oscars, PBS is presenting a fine series from there called "The Giulini Concerts."
Chandler Pavilion was built as a home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and as such it is the site for these events, under conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, the elegant, ardent Italian who replaced Zubin Mehta at the Philharmonic.
In tonight's concert (Channel 26 at 10) Vladimir Ashkenazy joins Giulini and the players in Brahms' stormy and expansive first piano concerto. The hour is first-rate both musically and visually, and WETA-FM will simulcast it.
Giulini has conducted far less on the East Coast than many of his most distinguished fellow Italians -- whether Toscanini or Cantelli or Abbado -- though his recordings are known just about everywhere. Los Angeles wisely grabbed him from the Chicago Symphony, where he was the principal guest conductor. In only three years the city that thought Mehta might never be replaced seems satisfied that things are just as well off as before, and a few argue passionately that it is better.
Giulini's intensity is different from the Italian tradition. It avoids the propulsive drive of Abbado, much less Toscanini, and is at its most soulful when the music is in repose. This is not to say that the music ever seems slack or careless. On the contrary, Giulini invariably takes advantage of the more deliberate pace to elucidate supportive detail and to clarify orchestral timbres. This way the agitated side of the concerto is treated in less of a blockbuster way than is common and the reflective side positively soars. When Brahms marks it soft, here it is really soft. Ashkenazy seems to like the Brahms this way, allowing him to concentrate more than usual on the knotty technical tangles in the bass, which he delivers with great strength.
On top of that the camera work of Ashkenazy at the keyboard is the most intimate I have ever seen. Since Giulini allowed a camera into the orchestra, we have very close-up shots of the pianist from the lower end of the keyboard, especially fine for this work, where the hands are darting over each other like birds in flight.