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MUSIC REVIEW : Pacific Symphony Showcases Its Players


Musical display--the exhibition of hard-won skills--became both theme and subtext Wednesday at the final opening night of the Pacific Symphony's seventh season in the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

On aural view were 17 soloists from within the orchestra, in exposing works by Mozart, Beethoven and Richard Strauss, and a guest soloist, soprano Ealynn Voss, who sang the final scene from Strauss' "Salome." But the entire orchestra was put under close scrutiny throughout this generous program.

Carl St.Clair cannily put together the contrasting agenda of Mozart's Serenade No. 6 ("Serenata Notturna"), K. 239, Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, Strauss' early Serenade for Winds and two "Salome" excerpts--the famous Dance preceding the finale: Without Strauss' Opus 7 to bridge them, Beethoven's B-flat Symphony and the "Salome" pieces would clash resoundingly. With this transition, one traveled the 98 years separating these disparate works in relative smoothness.

With mellow virtuosity from the featured soloists, if less than ideal balances and transparency throughout, the purely instrumental portion of the program succeeded through St.Clair's infectious enthusiasm and usually tight sense of continuity.

Oddly enough, this enthusiasm seemed to go over the top more often in the Classical works than in the opera excerpts. In the "Salome" pieces, the conductor took care to create strong contrasts where appropriate, and to use the orchestra's entire dynamic range. In the Serenade and Symphony, he allowed more decibels than these composers require.

Like a bad gene, overplaying is a germ all orchestras carry, forever. In healthy moments, the disease seems to be under control; it eventually returns. On Wednesday, it returned strongly in the first half, less often in the second.

In that part of the evening, Strauss' cherishable Serenade (1882) enjoyed one of the more glorious moments in St.Clair's first three seasons.

Joyfully clarified and effortlessly sung-out, it became a perfect showcase for 13 accomplished players: flutists Louise DiTullio and Sharon O'Connor, oboists Barbara Northcutt and Margaret Gilinsky, clarinetists James Kanter and Debra Kanter, bassoonists Dave Riddles, David Muller and Allen Savedoff and hornists James Thatcher, Paul Loredo, John Reynolds and Russell Dicey.

The splendid soloists in the Mozart work were principals: violinists Endre Granat and Alexander Horvath, violist Robert Becker and string bassist Steven Edelman.

Voss' contribution to the climactic portion of this performance emerged appropriately winning. That could not be a surprise, of course, given her previous successes at Opera Pacific (as Turandot) and L.A. Music Center Opera (as Chrysothemis), yet one had to note that, in this challenge, her soprano proved to be not the most colorful or voluminous one we might expect.

Still, it is genuinely dramatic, evenly placed, well-focused and true of pitch, if not huge or consistently gleaming. She spit out words effectively and clearly and maintained her stage-dignity (in this concert situation) without overt gesture or histrionic nuance. And she sang confidently.

St.Clair proved a worthy partner for both Strauss and the soloist, unfolding the musical scenario urgently, yet without pushing. In the Dance of the Seven Veils, on the other hand, he sometimes allowed moments of rhythmic laxity, with a consequent loss of tension.

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