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Mehta On Podium : Youth Ensemble Ends Its Season With A Ninth


Mehli Mehta and the American Youth Symphony concluded their season-long inspection of famous ninth symphonies in Royce Hall on Sunday night with a propulsive account of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9.

The series may have had a certain gimmick and sales value, but it made no memorable points concerning ninth symphonies in general or any ninth symphony in particular. A concentration of first symphonies would have been less impressive musically but might have discovered more of provocative interest.

Shostakovich's Ninth proved little more than the well-known fact that the composer was a skillful manufacturer of symphonies who encountered no particularly lofty notions when he set out to write his Ninth. It is not as massive a piece as the Seventh or Eighth, and not quite as ceremonial as the Tenth.

It is, rather, more of a diversion in which the composer looked backward and reworked some of his more successful earlier formulas. Nothing in the symphony is less than characteristic, and nothing is particularly new. It exploits such time-tried signature devices as the singing piccolo, the moaning clarinet, the mournful slow waltz, the desolate slow movement, the two-shorts-and-a-long rhythms and above all the boisterous flair for mockery and parody.

It is basically a fun piece and Mehta and his young charges were content to let it go at that. They had rehearsed it carefully, they made the points unarguably, and they instilled it with momentum and high spirits. The audience cheered the solo players when Mehta called on them for bows, and the orchestra in turn enthusiastically applauded its conductor.

The first half of the program was a disaster area. The Prelude to Wagner's "Die Meistersinger" was painfully loud and carelessly jumbled. If it had been rehearsed, the time was wasted.

Elgar's song cycle, "Sea Pictures," once a favorite tour de force of such eminent mezzos as Dame Clara Butt, Louise Homer and Dame Janet Baker, was revived for Marilyn Savage, who displayed few of the requisite requirements.

An occasional pealing tone was all that could be heard over the noisy accompaniment; the lowest range had neither force nor quality, the words were slurred, and neither soloist nor conductor could make anything important of the overblown Victorian music.

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