IRVINE — Tchaikovsky Spectacular. Some people cringe at the thought. As a rule, it means parading out some of Tchaikovsky's most over-familiar (not to say tired) music and playing it loud and fast, usually to the accompaniment, at some point, of fireworks. Ugh.
The Pacific Symphony's fourth annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular showed few exceptions to the above, though when it did, one was thankful. Bruce Ferden, music director of the Spokane Symphony, had the honor this time of leading the orchestra through the morass of bombast Saturday night at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. A record crowd of 11,073 attended this summer-season finale.
Ferden proved a capable leader. He enforced a neatness of execution uncommon at such events, with crisp articulations from all the sections, precise balances and keen ensemble playing. He generally avoided the over-brassy climax where possible, and even the more heated lyrical passages had disciplined shape to them.
The amplification system didn't help him in his quest for poised statements, however. It gave the orchestra a bright, electric tinge. And although it revealed the players to be in well-rehearsed form, it rendered everything in the aural equivalent of harsh fluorescent lighting.
"Marche Slav" emerged clean and crisp, even slightly understated. The Suite from "Swan Lake" proved tidy as well, though at times bland in Ferden's by-the-book reading. In "Romeo and Juliet," Ferden found muted colors in the love theme, judiciously held back until its final flowering, but the allegros lacked urgency in their fleetness and curt execution.
Twenty-year-old cellist Allison Eldredge provided a respite from the din with the Variations on a Rococo Theme. She revealed an ample, easygoing technique and a logical lyricism that got straight to the point, no fuss. Ferden accompanied elegantly.
Then the "1812" Overture. The Huntington Beach Concert Band added to the clamor. The fireworks were loud. The cannons were \o7 very loud\f7 . Some might say too loud. Ugh.