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MUSIC REVIEW : Mozart Carries the Day in Irvine

August 15, 1994|TIMOTHY MANGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — One can get tired of Tchaikovsky. Ditto Rachmaninoff. One even can conceivably get too much of--gasp!--Beethoven. Mozart, perhaps alone, never wears. You'll never hear a critic, or anyone else for that matter, say "Oh no! Not the 'Prague' again."

Which is what saved the Pacific Symphony Saturday night. Its Mozart program at Irvine Meadows was neither well-rehearsed nor particularly well-executed. The amplification was primitive. The air was close, the orchestra opting for shirt sleeves.

But Mozart reigned and overcame, and sent at least one listener among the 7,541 in attendance home happy. The guest conductor on this occasion was Klaus Donath, a 57-year-old German with proper credentials for these proceedings, including time spent as assistant to that eminent Mozartean Karl Bohm. In recent seasons and locally, Donath has led two Mozart operas for Opera Pacific and is scheduled for a third.

As befitting an opera conductor, he revealed a keen eye for drama in the music at hand. This was not homogenized Mozart, or drawing-room Mozart, or cool and calculated Mozart, but vital, robust, bubbly Mozart. The performances went somewhere. And though the playing proved rough a good deal of the time, it was never dull.

Two symphonies framed the agenda, the overture-like No. 32 in a bracing run-through to open the concert, and the beloved No. 38, "Prague." Donath's brisk tempos in the latter often found the Pacific players scrambling, yet the pulse never seemed labored, or pushed. Lightness and buoyancy prevailed. In addition, the conductor enforced attention to dynamics and articulation, shaped phrases crisply and discovered dramatic emphases.

*

It seemed a mistake, however, to include the Divertimento in F, K. 138, on this program, played by a full contingent of strings. The title "Divertimento" not being Mozart's own, the work is fairly obviously chamber music--i.e., a lightweight string quartet in Stanley Sadie's analysis--and the parts turned out unwieldy when played en masse.

Here, as elsewhere, the Meadows amplification sounded clear but also harsh and treble-heavy. The violins were especially piercing. One longed for Mozart unplugged.

In the middle of the program, Anne-Marie McDermott played the Piano Concerto in C, K. 467. She showed herself a clean technician and deft stylist, taking advantage of the heavy miking to float intimate points in the Andante, never settling for mere speed in the outer Allegros, crafting, jabbing and melding pertinently detailed lines. Donath and orchestra added a sprightly accompaniment.

McDermott's one miscue was her choice of cadenzas. Written by the 19th-Century Danish composer August Winding, they seemed better suited to Liszt than to Mozart. They were showy and they jarred.

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