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MUSIC REVIEW : Coming in Loud and Clear : Pacific Symphony Plays With Gusto in Eclectic Bill but Overdoes It on Brahms

April 02, 1993|LAURENCE VITTES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — Music director Carl St.Clair programmed an odd assortment of works for his Pacific Symphony concert Wednesday night, then did his best to make them seem compatible.

The orchestra played well and filled Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center with some gorgeous sounds. But when Brahms' Second Symphony came across as no more subtle and deep than the jaunty opening performance of Verdi's overture to "La Forza del Destino," the audience was the loser.

The night partially was redeemed by Carter Brey's playing of Dmitri Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 before intermission. The young American's heroics not only pleased the audience but affirmed again that here is a modern cello concerto that can stand comparison with the classics by Haydn, Dvorak and Elgar. Marked by magnificent French horn playing (the horns were tremendous all night) and sympathetic work by St.Clair, the concerto seemed to play itself.

Brey lacked only the orchestra-dominating technique of the great Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom the work was composed (essential to separating the complex threads of the fast and frantic outer movements). But he compensated with his enthusiasm and, in the slow middle movement, noble intensity.

*

Following intermission, St.Clair showed little sympathy for Brahms' Symphony No. 2. After a mundane opening and a reasonably eloquent playing by the violas and cellos of their big second theme, the music bogged down in the excited syncopations that follow, and never recovered its sense of dream.

Throughout, dynamics ranged only from medium loud to loud; the work's rich strain of lyricism was overly bold and in your face. St.Clair may have had in mind an optimistic as opposed to a profound Brahms, but roast beef Brahms was the result as the performance motored on with so little interpretive shaping that even the trademark woodwind solos that poetically embellish the work were lost in the orchestra's depths.

The program will be repeated tonight in the McCallum Theatre for the Performing Arts in Palm Desert.

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