Now in his seventh season with the Santa Monica Symphony, music director Yehuda Gilad seems ever more at ease with his orchestra and ever more willing to take risks. And one must take risks to program Mahler's expansive and transparent Fourth Symphony, which occupied the major portion of the Sunday evening agenda at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.
The strings sang with poignant lyricism, the woodwinds blended exceedingly well and the brass rang out heroically. One could detect moments of rhythmic imprecision or a wrong note in the violins, but on the whole this performance was remarkably secure. Gilad could have taken more liberties with tempos, but his vision of the work proved, if not innovative, entirely cogent.
Soprano Mani Mekler rendered the solo part in the fourth movement with powerful directness. The Israeli-born singer tended to punctuate key syllables, and her melodic lines, as a result, did not flow as smoothly as one might have liked. Her accuracy and enunciation, however, proved faultless.
The elegant playing of the orchestra's woodwinds--including principal oboist Tom Boyd--graced the ensemble's polished reading of Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin," which opened the program. The dynamics, unfortunately, seemed to hover around one level.