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CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEW : Unknowns and Fireworks Light Up Festival : Guest conductor Samuel Wong and cellist Daniel Gaisford sparkle at seventh annual Tchaikovksy Spectacular at Irvine Meadows.


Samuel Wong? Daniel Gaisford? Who?

At first blush, it appeared as if the powers-that-be at the Pacific Symphony were happy enough to let the fireworks and cannon and old Piotr Ilyich (Tchaikovsky, that is) do all the work of packing 'em into Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Saturday night, for the seventh annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular. Never underestimate bombs bursting in air: 11,139 officially tabulated listeners showed up for the festivities. One ventures that they weren't there to hear Wong and Gaisford.

But the unknowns came through nevertheless, in an impressive way. Gaisford, a 28-year-old Juilliard alumnus, turned out to be an assured and tasteful cellist in Tchaikovsky's "Rococo" Variations. Wong, an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, proved to be a man with ideas and a graceful podium presence, someone with a personality.

From memory, he led the Pacific Symphony in a poised and refined, never overheated reading of the Fifth Symphony. His tempos were uniformly slow, his textures warm, his phrasing calm, delicate and dreamy wherever possible. He got to the climaxes when he happened to get there, and they had plenty of punch in his broad approach. He kept a lid on the schmaltz.

Wong's elegant movements--including simple left-hand curlicues when most conductors are busy churning things up--coaxed suave playing from all, especially the strings. One would hope to hear him again in these parts, indoors.

Gaisford gave a wonderfully vibrant account of the "Rococo" Variations, rhythmically pointed and alert, simple in its tunefulness, technically at ease. Even his vibrato--neat, quickish--seemed to match the work's rhetoric, and he resisted painting too fine a nuance anywhere. But he could unloose a lyrical phrase when needed, and his sotto voce had intensity. Wong and orchestra accompanied smartly, unobtrusively.

Wong had opened the concert with the now politically incorrect--since it celebrates a Serbian victory--"Marche Slave," in which he took the path of least vulgarity--a tidy, controlled and properly jaunty reading.

At fireworks time came, as Wong himself put it, the "inevitable, ubiquitous," "1812" Overture, the gut-thumping pyrotechnics doing their thing at the proper moment.

A well-rehearsed Huntington Beach Concert Band joined in the merriment at the end.

Wong conducted an efficient, no-nonsense performance, except for the deficiency of about 100 measures of the piece--cut, said the management, to save time. One was surprised that such an editing practice survives in this day and age.

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