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O.C. MUSIC REVIEW : Macal Leads With Clarity, Little Warmth : The Czech conductor stressed discipline over lyricism in a Pacific Symphony program of works by three of his countrymen.

December 14, 1990|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — In the great divide of conductors between the literalists and the re-creators--the Toscaninis and the Furtwanglers--Zdenek Macal seems to fall on the Italian's side rather than the German's.

Macal took no interpretive risks and refused to impose a strong personal profile Wednesday when he conducted the Pacific Symphony in music by three fellow Czechs at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Rather, he opted for the same virtues he had displayed when he led the Pacific in January, 1989. Again, the music director of the Milwaukee Symphony (and part-time resident of Laguna Niguel) stressed clarity, exactness and discipline, but rarely offered flights of lyricism or poetry or delved into subtlety of detail.

What was new was a penchant for drive and speed.

He opened Dvorak's Eighth Symphony as if itching to go, siding more with the composer's tempo direction (allegro con brio) than his marking of the opening theme (expressive).

From then on, Macal emphasized drive and dynamics, and while he could build toward an exciting climax, he did not create much warmth or charm, although others have found such qualities in the score. Macal neither shaped phrases tellingly nor luxuriated expansively.

The orchestra did not provide a full, ideal Romantic sound. Violins could sound edgy and thin, and the new seating plan enforced by music director Carl St. Clair--violas placed to the conductor's right and in front of the cellos--created some curious effects: Prominent themes given to the cellos sounded muffled and buried, while the violas' secondary lines and filling-in of harmonies proved over-prominent.

Augmented by 14 additional brass players (11 of whom stood up for the opening and closing fanfare), the orchestra made a mighty, electrifying noise in Janacek's Sinfonietta.

One might have wanted more biting attacks, more angular phrasing and wilder whooping from the brass, especially in the closing section of the third movement. But Macal obviously had a sense of the correct style--the folk elements transmuted by the composer--and he emphasized the vigorous rhythms while maintaining uncluttered balance.

He opened the program with the Overture to Smetana's "The Bartered Bride," taken at a pace fast enough to consider calling the piece, Overture to "The Amphetamine Bride." The orchestra was hard pressed to keep up with his tempo, and much of the composer's fugal writing emerged blurred and hectic.

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