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CHALLENGING OPENER : Pacific Symphony Begins 9th Season

October 16, 1987|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

The Pacific Symphony, conducted by music director Keith Clark, inaugurated its ninth concert year Wednesday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center with a challenging program clearly designed to display the accumulated accomplishments of the orchestra's first eight seasons.

Those accomplishments are considerable, as demonstrated in full-blooded performances of Mahler's Second Symphony, Rachmaninoff's "Paganini" Rhapsody, wherein John Browning returned to Segerstrom Hall as the piano soloist, and Mozart's "Ave verum corpus," sung by the Pacific Chorale.

As was heard in Clark's leadership of Mahler's Third last spring, the Pacific Symphony possesses a high-achievement string choir, virtuosic woodwinds and a brass contingent of strong but mellow accomplishment--the requisite instrumental forces for the Second. And, as reported at his previous outings of the work, Clark produced again a canny, instinctive, extensively rethought reading of the massive work.

It was a reading marked by a series of ascending climaxes, telling instrumental details, and focused, controlled tempos. Except that he did not always tie together all the Mahlerian sprawl of the fifth movement, Clark kept this performance on-track, and single-minded. For the most part--a summer break usually disrupts an ensemble's mechanical continuity--the orchestra played up to a high standard. In the quiet and exposed stretches of the first slow movement, it exceeded that standard.

Mezzo-soprano Leslie Richards and soprano Maurita Phillips Thornburgh were the intense, lush-sounding vocal soloists. The Pacific Chorale, prepared by its music director, John Alexander, controlled its generous dynamics discreetly, and sang handsomely.

At the other end of the program, the chorale, assisted carefully by the orchestra, presaged the depths and seriousness of Mahler in a touching performance of the Mozart motet.

Then, to bring us back to earth, John Browning achieved an authoritative, jaunty and emotionally detached reading of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody. Clark & Co. seconded Browning's insouciant approach: a walk through the park on the way to church.

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