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MUSIC REVIEW : Talmi, Chang Offer Summer Wonders, Indoors, in San Diego

July 29, 1994|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

SAN DIEGO — Question: What does lucky San Diego have in the good old summertime that Los Angeles doesn't?

Answer: A little night music indoors.

The key word is indoors . It has become an increasingly nice word. It makes one think small.

Over the decades, Angelenos have been conditioned to regard post-season orchestral programs as massive starlit orgies in which the listnin' is easy. Audiences can approach 18,000--even 53,000 if you're thinking tenorish.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Gargantuan picnic serenades can be fun, so long as the participants on both sides of the proscenium don't confuse the events with lofty aesthetic experiences. Alfresco bowling tournaments in Hollywood are compromised, virtually by definition, by sonic distortion and social distraction.

This summer in brave and sophisticated San Diego, however, the local orchestral forces are playing four major concerts in Copley Symphony Hall, capacity 2,255. Bless them.

The players have a roof over their heads. The sound, predicated on old-fashioned natural balances, actually accommodates subtle detail in proper perspective. The atmosphere is serious if not somber, the ambience relatively intimate. The music is the thing.

There are no microphones here. No fireworks. No airplanes. No police sirens. No tenors. No picture shows. No narrators. No wine-bottle rolling contests on concrete steps. No obligatory anthems. No wise guy yelling, "Play ball." No skunks.

It's bliss.

The bliss for a capacity audience downtown on Wednesday could be attributed to two heroes: Yoav Talmi, the sensitive music director from Tel Aviv who was making his last appearance of the season, and Sarah Chang, the 13-year-old violinist from Philadelphia who was reconfirming her position on the brink of what should be a phenomenal career.

Choosing Bach's Third "Brandenburg" Concerto as a clockwork prelude to grandiose indulgences of Schubert and Sibelius, Talmi began the festivities with better intentions than executions. He earned credit for personally manning the harpsichord. Unfortunately, his modest continuo realization seemed all but inaudible from a seat at the front of the balcony, and his finger movements suggested a certain lack of invention.

Compounding the stylistic problems, he utilized 26 strings--more than necessary under the circumstances. Ensemble textures tended toward mush.

Relief came with the Schubert Fifth Symphony in an exceptionally poignant performance notable for graceful exposition, gentle propulsion and elegant shading. The Bachian miscalculations were easily forgiven.

Conventional program structure always places the concerto before intermission. But Talmi, who obviously recognizes a stellar climax when it beckons, saved the Sibelius Concerto--and, possibly, the best--for last.

Chang made the most of her opportunity, playing the nostalgic showpiece with degrees of poise and passion that seem virtually indecent in one so young. There was nothing studied, nothing dutiful in a performance etched in dark, ample, resonant tone and articulated with awesome virtuosity.

Chang made it all sound easy. Remember her name.

Talmi and the San Diego Symphony provided vibrant, alert, sympathetic collaboration. In this instance, the word accompaniment would be misleading.

* Remaining concerts in the summer series at Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B St., San Diego, at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 3 (George Cleve, guest conductor, Andre Watts, soloist) and Aug. 17 (Henry Lewis, guest conductor, Marilyn Horne, soloist). Tickets: $18.50-$55 (Military, senior and student discounts 50%.) Special $10 tickets available at box office from noon to 1 p.m. on day of concert. Telephone information: (619) 699-4205.

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