Closing the Pasadena Symphony's 1984-85 season, Catherine Comet, the Baltimore-based French conductor, brought a challenging program to the orchestra Saturday night. She also brought most of the qualities needed to meet the challenge.
Comet seems to command all the conducting skills required to make her clear visions of Martinu's "Sinfonietta La Jolla," Mozart's Piano Concerto, K. 467, Respighi's "Fountains of Rome" and Ravel's "La Valse" apprehendable. Musically, there is never any doubt about what she wants; as a result, given the virtuoso character of the Pasadena band, she usually gets it.
Not that the latest performance in Civic Auditorium was a model of efficiency or immaculate playing; it had its problems and weak moments. It was not for nothing that former music director Daniel Lewis used to insist on extra rehearsals--now, without them, we see what they were worth.
But the general level of the playing did the ensemble and guest conductor Comet proud. Martinu's neglected 1950 work made all its points in pungency, wit and jazziness; Respighi's colorful display-piece let all sections of the orchestra show off; "La Valse" emerged mysterious, clarified and sexy--as it should. And soloist Joseph Kalichstein brought both mellowness and passion to a fleet, well-spoken and unself-conscious reading of Mozart's C-major Concerto that sang from first note to last.