Anthony Plog's heart was in the right place. The California composer--perhaps better known for his trumpeting skills--chose the inspirational writings of beloved naturalist John Muir as the text for a work praising nature and scolding man for his intrusions. Plog set his 25-minute "Sierra Journal" for soprano, trumpet and small orchestra.
When the Peninsula Chamber Orchestra and music director Douglas Lowry introduced "Journal" at the ensemble's season closer in Norris Community Theatre on Tuesday, one wanted to cheer Plog's gesture toward preserving fields and streams. Sadly, his noble motivations were misplaced.
The square rhythms and angular melodic lines fit uncomfortably (or not at all) with the rambling, rhythmless text. Laurie Magee brought a sympathetic touch, and an unwelcome wide vibrato, to her graceless solo duties. Whenever Donald Green, associate principal with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, chimed in with his bright, if simplistic trumpet ornaments, Muir's words became as inaudible as a chirping bird by a waterfall. Lowry led the Coplandesque accompaniment with authority.
After a raggedly traversed overture by Handel, the sumptuously played "Thomas Tallis" Fantasia of Vaughan Williams came as a pleasant surprise. Lowry managed to coax the finest playing of the evening from his strings.
The reverberationless hall proved a hindrance to Beethoven's warm and witty Symphony No. 8. While the dry acoustic took care of the warmth, Lowry's stiff, full-speed-ahead conducting, alas, wiped clear any glimmer of wit.