IRVINE — As the Pacific Symphony began Saturday night with a program entitled "Mozart-in-the-Meadows," it seemed intent on burying the composer there. Mozart's Symphony No. 34, in C, struggled under a mound of blandness, its martial brilliance dimmed by a rough-edged violin section, its sectional interplay obscured by skewed balance.
By the end of the work, however, Music Director Carl St.Clair had pulled his band out of the quagmire with a playful Allegro vivace braced by crispness and muscularity. Thereafter, the orchestra at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre--reduced in numbers for a more classical balance--seemed reinvigorated.
The musicians mustered plenty of fire and dramatic contrast to open the "Haffner" Symphony. During the Andante, sections answered one another with consistent agreement in sentiment and phrasing, so that the movement took sustenance from a thoughtful \o7 legato\f7 and an aura of quiet grace. St.Clair drew spirit and precision, even a hint of humor from the group, for the Presto.
Pianist Stephen Prutsman capped the ascent into Mozartean refinement. Hunkered over the piano for the Concerto in C Minor, K. 491, the Norwalk-born soloist applied a great variety of delicate touch and subtle shading. For the piano, this is a very exposed--and exposing--piece, often requiring that the performer make his statement within a bare-boned texture, always insisting that he make every note speak. Prutsman gave intelligent voice to his part, blending rarefied drama with a solid focus, laying out the structure with clear-sighted attentiveness.
His own cadenzas--impressive without gratuitous fireworks, cerebral and often understated--further corroborated an intimate grasp of the piece as well as an understanding of appropriate 18th-Century style.
Before the crowd of 7,101, Prutsman found heedful partners in the Pacific Symphony, particularly through empathetic responses offered by John Ralston, Emily Bernstein and Dave Riddles, first-chair players on oboe, clarinet and bassoon.