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Music Reviews : Stringer Leads Pasadena

February 01, 1988|HERBERT GLASS

Incipient fatherhood prevented Jorge Mester from leaving his wife and New York home to prepare his Pasadena Symphony for its concert Saturday at Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Enter 23-year-old Mark Stringer, a one-time pupil of Mester's, not to lead a standard, concerto-in-the-middle program, but the ecstatic sprawl of Berlioz's dramatic symphony, "Romeo and Juliet." Stringer did himself and Berlioz proud.

Things began unpromisingly, with the orchestra's scrambled reading of the fugal introduction, but, with the entrance of a crack contingent from John Alexander's Pacific Chorale (what lovely soft singing!) and mezzo-soprano Jacalyn Bower's passionate, rich-voiced intonation of the prologue, events proceeded impressively, if not always with optimum instrumental precision.

Still, the orchestra's best moments were up to its highest standards: the winds's nimble accompaniment to the wittily incisive delivery by tenor Paul Sperry of Mercutio's scherzetto; the cellos's luscious proclamation of the big tune in the Love Scene; the horn quartet's gleeful virtuosity in the punishing fanfares of the "Queen Mab" scherzo.

Stringer and forces reminded us that "Romeo and Juliet" is 90% mood-evocation and lyricism, 10% bombast. The latter is restricted to the finale, involving Friar Lawrence--sung with appropriate gravity, if insufficient baritonal heft, by Leslie Guinn--and the full, industrial-strength chorus.

The bulk of the score requires a sensitive, controlling hand. And this the young conductor, whose experience has--helpfully--been restricted largely to opera, provided.

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