A brief contemporary novelty, a standard violin concerto and, to close, a rousing, proto-Romantic repertory staple. Such was Carl St.Clair's season-ending program for his Pacific Symphony: Michael Daugherty's brief but noisy "Desi," the familiar Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Berlioz's equally well-worn "Symphonie Fantastique."
In the event, Wednesday night in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center (scheduled to be repeated Thursday), this agenda, though hardly ground-breaking, emerged splendidly played and carefully paced. It became a tribute to the reliable, growing skills of the orchestra, and to St.Clair's persuasive podium manner.
Here was much to admire: strong soloism from within the ensemble's ranks, dependable balances and instrumental niceties, single-minded attentiveness to the conductor's clear direction.
What seemed to be missing, then? In a layered probing of Berlioz's musical psyche, genuine gravity, the full range of emotional complexity, a sense of conflict between the musical materials. Transparent to a fault, what this otherwise convincing narrative lacked was the extra dimension of outside forces acting upon the storytelling: demons, negative spirits, the occult. Without such forces, what tends to dominate is the simply mundane--as here.
Similarly earthbound, though also handsomely rendered, violinist Kyoko Takezawa's debut appearance with the orchestra in the E-minor Concerto contained many beauties and emerged almost pristine in its clarity.
The young musician from Japan has everything she needs for this test-piece: solid technique, a full and resonant tone of great carrying power, a Mendelssohnian reserve and what seems to be--not paradoxically--a natural eloquence. St.Clair proved a considerate collaborator, though the orchestra often overplayed its hand.
Daugherty's 4 1/2-minute tribute to Desi Arnaz utilizes fewer than 30 players--winds and percussion and string bass--to produce a loud '40s-type dance band sound. It's not unpleasant or offensive, but it seems to have little substance beyond the "Cubana rhythms," as St.Clair called them. Surely Daugherty, an Iowan born in 1954, has written something of greater interest. . . .
Guest concertmaster for this final pair on the "Classics" series--the actual season-closers are two pops concerts tonight and Saturday featuring singer Davis Gaines and conducted by Richard Kaufman--was Peter McHugh of Louisville, Ky.