Mehli Mehta has always been an unblushing Romantic. The American Youth Symphony's venerable music director regularly steers far away from the coolness of the Baroque or 20th-Century orchestral literature. His credo--the warmer the better.
Thus, the program on Sunday at Royce Hall, UCLA, was right up his alley: Wagner's explosive "Meistersinger" Prelude, Bruch's schmaltzy Violin Concerto No. 1 and that all-time tear-jerker, Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony.
Of the three, the "Pathetique," oddly enough, emerged the weakest entry, perhaps due to insufficient preparation (the talented young ensemble rehearses only on Saturdays, after all), or perhaps due to an unusually distracted conductor. Premature applause and occasional unwelcome onstage noises seemed to interfere with Mehta's concentration.
Though the tricky transitions of the opening movement were handled gracefully and logically, the peculiar little lilt of the second movement never surfaced. The powerful third movement, serving as the storm before the calm, was just the ticket for this extroverted orchestra, though the brass could have exercised some restraint.