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Music Review : Artistically Speaking, 'Spectacular' Just Wasn't

August 24, 1987|JOHN HENKEN

As first steps go, the Pacific Symphony's "Tchaikovsky Spectacular" on Friday night was artistically nearly a stumble.

Financially and promotionally, however, the orchestra's initial foray into Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre was probably a giant stride forward. Circa 8,000 picnickers, fireworks buffs and Tchaikovsky aficionados trooped in, and roared their approval of director Keith Clark's proposal--delivered from the stage before the final number--that they return next summer for a full season.

The troubles began, and mostly ended, with the sound system. Those who learned to love this repertory on scratchy, hissing records from the days when hi-fi was high-tech, may have enjoyed a moment or two of nostalgia from the strident, unbalanced sound.

Beneath the stormy blast, there seemed to be much to admire in Daniel Pollack's playing of the Piano Concerto No. 1: steely heroism in the thundering moments contrasted with probing introspection, and even passages of lyric grace. Perhaps most impressive of all, Pollack bounced off the bench beaming rather than cursing at the end.

Thanks to the filtering effect of distance, a retreat after intermission from Row B to the more remote reaches of the amphitheater did wonders for the sound quality. On this occasion, distortion seemed the reward of front-row affluence.

Clark led a nicely paced reading of the "Romeo and Juliet" Overture-Fantasy, affectionate but without exaggerated indulgence. From afar, articulation still sounded crisp and the ensemble much more cohesive. A loose microphone was apparently responsible for some loud pops, sounding remarkably like skips on a record.

Oh yes, there were fireworks. Clark introduced the "1812" Overture as "what we've all been waiting for," which seemed no more than the truth, however it may have made Pollack feel. The 1st Division Marine Band joined the finale, and the Irvine skies bloomed and boomed in a genuinely spectacular display, totally unsynchronized with the music.

(Any report here on the "March Slav" listed to open the program would be hearsay. When freeway traffic came to an abrupt halt in Anaheim, it became clear that at least one listener would arrive late.)

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