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Orchestra Loses Way In 'Night'

February 27, 1986|JOHN VOLAND

"Vienna Night" with the Orange County Pacific Symphony Chamber Players--featuring three works by three composers who "made their mark" in that city--proved to be long on effort and short on the Gemuetlichkeit that makes the city such a pleasure.

As performed Monday night in the South Coast Repertory main theater, the three works--denoting the beginning, heyday and twilight of Vienna's musical dominion--were made fussy by an intentness on the printed notes and by an emsemble made timid by the uncomfortable emotions these rather somber works evoke.

Mahler's "Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen" ("Songs of a Wayfarer") received the best treatment from the group, possibly because the players, as part of the Pacific Symphony, went over much of this music in their performance of the composer's First Symphony a month ago.

Baritone Donald Christensen certainly did his part to make the songs sparkle: His voice, while not easily and freely produced, is a highly flexible instrument, and some of his word-pointing and phrasing--especially in the pastoral "Ging heut' Morgens uebers Feld" ("Going This Morning Over the Field")--was intelligent and musical. In the uncredited arrangement for chamber group, the players held their own quite well, managing to make the song cycle viable in this intimate setting.

Alban Berg, Schoenberg's star pupil and a formidable modernist composer in his own right, represented Vienna in the crumbling inter-war period with his Chamber Concerto for piano, violin and 13 winds, written in 1927.

Faced with a kind of didacticism in the score, the chamber group took a disastrous course in performing it: They made no effort to interpret the work and instead let the many, many notes do the talking. Conductor Keith Clark did his best to bring order and shape to the music, but his players seemed in a great hurry to get the piece done--balances were all askew, entrances were often messy and none of Berg's bittersweet late Romanticism came through the murk.

Under these circumstances, a glittering contribution by pianist David Berfield--who brought power and a huge array of color to his solo duties--seemed defeated from the start, and it was no help that violinist Israel Baker, though a fine player with a sweet, singing tone, appeared to be phoning his part in.

If only the curtain-opening Mozart wind serenade (in E-flat, K. 375) had brought a little sunshine to this generally gloomy picture. Instead, however, the players seemed to plod and stumble throughout.

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