Extravagant claims are made about the sonic wonder of every advance in audio technology, such as compact discs. All it takes, however, is a brilliant performance of a blockbuster like "Le Sacre du Printemps" in a lively auditorium such as Segerstrom Hall to shatter any illusions of equality between the impact of live and reproduced music.
Such, at least, seemed the case Thursday evening at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, where Keith Clark led his Pacific Symphony in a program of Russian spectaculars.
"Sacre," of course, is more than just the original primal scream. Ear-boggling aural orgies are an integral part of Stravinsky's score, however, and at that level Clark and his cohorts proved, if anything, overachievers.
They also proved capable of surprising restraint in the murmurous twitchings that fill the interstices of the kaleidoscopic work. All the myriad solos, beginning with David Riddles' bassoon plaint, were carefully shaped within the context of Clark's comprehensive overview.
Clark's plan was purposeful, and almost implacable in its control. Yet he preserved a strong kinetic feeling and, most important, a sense of spontaneity and surprise. After 74 years, "Sacre" sounds as modern and visionary as almost any subsequent orchestral work.
Indeed, it may be too modern for some ears. Many people did not return to hear it after intermission--although the archaically late start (8:30 p.m.) may have had something to do with that--and the audience continued to dwindle throughout the performance.
"Sacre" was not without its little miscues, and neither was Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade." But the orchestral product in both had to impress for its balance, strength, and sheen. Concertmaster Endre Granat led the always able solo work in the latter.
In "Scheherazade," Clark seemed to overextend control and restraint into obtrusive fussiness. One left not with the memory of stirring melodies and big sounds, but with a tired feeling that, gosh, this piece is all gear-shifting.
Emphasizing the restraint angle, Clark took the gamble-unnecessary--and almost counterproductive in this context--by opening the program with Mussorgsky's reserved Prelude to "Khovanshchina," in Rimsky's transparent orchestration. The playing was somewhat tentative, as was the audience response.