Murry Sidlin and the Long Beach Symphony managed to finish off Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony Thursday at the Terrace Theater.
By choosing agonizingly slow tempos and by milking every significant--and insignificant--melodic moment, Sidlin took an essentially lyrical, occasionally dramatic work and transformed it into a melodramatic saga that only intermittently glimmered with lyricism.
For example, a relatively straightforward call to attention by the horns in the first movement, immediately preceding The Tune was drawn out to excruciating lengths, calling attention to itself instead. A symbol, perhaps, of Sidlin's approach, which floundered in a This-Is-Great-Music self-consciousness.
From the conductor's swaying and eyes-closed intensity, it was clear that he cherished the score. As he had in a previous over-performance of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony, Sidlin loved the music not wisely but too well.
Such forced emotions came as a bit of a surprise Thursday, following as they did a poised and polished reading of Ned Rorem's heavily dramatic "Lions (A Dream)." Though nearly a quarter-century old, the work retains its freshness and spontaneity, deftly mixing dreamy four-square tonality with subtly shifting dissonances. Sidlin gave the 15-minute piece plenty of room to breathe, while keeping a careful watch over ensemble balance and the composer's penchant for sudden shifts in direction.
The orchestra was fully up to the challenges of this thorny work. Most effective were the contributions of a cool-jazz quartet led by the smoky sax of Joe Stone (rudely uncredited in the program book).
After intermission, Sidlin paid homage to the 10th anniversary of the Schoenberg Institute at USC with a spirited traversal of that composer's orchestral setting of Brahms' G-minor Piano Quartet. Exactly \o7 why\f7 the Long Beach Symphony felt the need to honor the USC facility was not clear.
Regardless, this was inspired music-making, occasional rough moments in the brass notwithstanding. Schoenberg's grand-scaled design emerged logically, though many of his more subtle touches of orchestration got a bit muddled in the ensemble's enthusiastic playing.
From the opening measures straight through to the crash-bang finale, Sidlin obviously enjoyed exploring this vivid, seldom-heard setting. And so did the audience.