COSTA MESA — Having delivered an unusual, primarily post-Romantic program at Pasadena's Ambassador Auditorium Thursday, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra on Sunday brought to the Orange County Performing Arts Center another all-orchestral, Romantic agenda.
At the Ambassador, conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy offered the indulgent banality of Scriabin's Third Symphony. At Segerstrom Hall, he gave us the indulgent glory of Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra." As on Thursday, the orchestra played boldly, loudly and sometimes imperfectly. Precision of attacks does not appear to be one of Ashkenazy's top priorities.
But intensity, excitement and drama are high on the conductor's list, and his high-voltage reading of Strauss' lofty Nietzschean tone poem certainly bore that out. Ashkenazy has in this orchestra a sturdy, energized brass section, percussionists who rarely pull punches and, most remarkably, a string choir that penetrates with Brobdingnagian strength. As a result, key moments in the work exploded with vigor; the most climactic of these proved earth-shattering.
This was not simply an aggressive, cataclysmic performance, however. Ashkenazy, finishing up his first year as principal conductor of the Berlin ensemble, brought out telling details with striking clarity. The various woodwind soloists played with great sensitivity, and concertmaster Hans Maile delivered his extended solos with confidence and style.