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MUSIC REVIEW : A Game Attempt at Brandenburg by S.D. Symphony, Mechetti

December 01, 1987|KENNETH HERMAN

SAN DIEGO — In recent years, performing J.S. Bach's complete Brandenburg Concerti has become one of the secular rites that marks the holiday season. A cynic might note that, to some musical ears, any Baroque composition sounds Christmas-y enough. Given Bach's contrapuntal invention, however, even the slightest feast is sufficient occasion to replay this brilliant collection.

Considering the modest expectations of the San Diego Symphony's current season, it is not surprising that the orchestra performed but four of the six Brandenburgs Sunday afternoon in Symphony Hall. Under the relaxed, genial direction of resident conductor Fabio Mechetti, the ensemble's performance was respectable enough for the casual listener.

This was Mechetti's first appearance with the orchestra in a formal setting. Although he conducted from memory with calm assurance, the Brazilian-born conductor's sangfroid verged on intellectual detachment. Of course, with Baroque music, it is preferable to under conduct than to overplay the conductor's role.

But a connoisseur's Brandenburg Concerti it was not. If the overall playing had approached the interpretive subtlety, the stylish phrasing, and pellucid timbre of principal flute Damian Bursill-Hall, who soloed in Concertos No. 4 and No. 5, the afternoon would have been indeed memorable.

But Mechetti favored an overly lyrical approach to Bach's style, keeping the melodic line as endless as a strand of spaghetti extracted from a huge bowl of pasta. This dated interpretation suppressed Bach's vital metrical accents and rhythmic nuances, creating a homogenized, benign musical texture in which dynamic contrasts and structural definitions were muted.

Another stylistic anachronism was solo violinist Igor Gruppman's overly tense, aggressive bowing and fat vibrato. Only when he forgot his Pagannini-etude zeal and crafted his lines to Baroque proportions, notably in the middle movement of the Fifth Brandenburg when he played alone with Bursill-Hall and harpsichordist Hollace Koman, did he cease to be a detraction.

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