After a lusterless, dispiriting first half, conductor Larry Granger turned around the season-opening program of the South Coast Symphony at Orange Coast College on Saturday to make a persuasive case for taking the orchestra seriously and listening to it with some pleasure.
As it was last year, the significant vehicle was a Dvorak symphony--this time, No. 6 in D--and one must credit Granger's seeming affinity for this composer plus probably lots of hard work and adequate rehearsal time.
Additionally, the presence of Moshe Hammer, the orchestra's new concert master, has made a noticeable contribution to a string section that had already demonstrated significant growth last season. Now there was even more unity and sensitivity in phrasing.
True, it was not an ideal performance. There could have more electricity; the brass could have been far less subdued, and the wind players need not have been so timid. Still, Granger gave an honest, direct, unmannered interpretation and showed a strong command of the right style.
The right style, however, was lacking for Gershwin's Concerto in F for Piano. The playing was blocky, cheerless, lacking in sweep and rhythmic bite. And the jazz idiom was strangely short-changed. Both Granger and soloist Jeff Manookian shared a strait-jacketed literalism where the music demanded freedom.
Whether William Grant Still's music deserves the relative obscurity into which it has fallen was not answered by Granger's languid interpretation of the Suite No. 4, "The Far West Suite" (from the cycle "The American Scene"), which opened the program. A brighter, more affectionate and less four-square approach might do wonders for these tone paintings.
Of course, with its minimal reverberation, the Robert B. Moore Theatre has to rate high on anyone's list of worst places to hear music in Orange County--a list which, alas, would include most if not all of the smaller common concert venues.