COSTA MESA — The Pacific Symphony last played Mahler's exposing Fourth Symphony 12 years ago next month--in a concert hall the orchestra no longer calls its own, with a music director long gone and with a young soprano now deceased. Things change.
Wednesday night, in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center--where it has been resident orchestra since 1986--with its present conductor, Carl St.Clair (now in his fifth season as music director) on the podium and with American soprano Cheryl Parrish as soloist, the Pacific Symphony essayed the demanding work a second time. The result proved an unequivocal success.
Like his mentor, the late Leonard Bernstein, St.Clair seems to possess a Mahler instinct:
He understands the musical idiom, knows the lay of the rhetorical land, takes control of the larger climaxes and polishes to a shine the details, subtleties and nuances that constitute those arching peaks. He is a natural, but especially in communicating to his players the elements of a fluent, well-spoken performance.
On a program that otherwise contained only Mozart's equally exigent Symphony No. 40, St.Clair & Co. on Wednesday gave Mahler's great G-major its eloquent due.
Superior playing--for once, including several levels of soft dynamics in that rarely visited world below \o7 mezzo-forte\f7 --marked every movement in both works. Transparency characterized instrumental textures. Inner voices spoke but did not dominate. Where required, quietude, a genuine quality of hushedness, articulated its statements boldly.
St.Clair outlined the musical scenario with a masterly hand, over-stressed no details yet left out no niceties. His manipulation of \o7 tempo rubato\f7 proved effective but light-fingered. The beauties of the work emerged fully realized, and in all their contrasts.
In the finale, Parrish produced an undistinctive tone that became easy and pleasant but never radiant, pronounced words indifferently and remained artistically earthbound.
In the preceding Mozart performance, the orchestra, sounding at once woodsy, mellow and alert, accomplished an admirable plateau of clarity and fluency.
For the record, the 1983 performance of Mahler's Fourth--decent and acceptable, if seldom inspired--was given in the auditorium at Santa Ana High School, was conducted by Keith Clark and featured the late Arleen Auger as soprano soloist.