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Pacific Tackles, Tames the Mahler Sixth

Music review: Carl St.Clair conducts a thoughtful, probing performance--one whose intensity makes the mammoth work convincing.

February 09, 1996|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

COSTA MESA — Mahler's Sixth Symphony invites superlative descriptions: swollen, complicated, noisy, sprawling.

But in a thorough and probing performance, the kind achieved by Carl St.Clair and his Pacific Symphony on Wednesday night, those descriptions fall away. A sense of inevitability, of heaven-storming, rather than mere window-breaking, intensity makes the mammoth work convincing; its excesses seem perfectly in scale, its rhetoric in no way overstated.

Continuing for the fourth season a Mahler cycle that previously has offered the First, Second and Fourth Symphonies, St.Clair & Co. accomplished a communicative, brilliant and integrated reading in the welcoming but exposing acoustic of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

The sometimes apparent verbosity of the outer movements--the ones usually described as overlong and hysterical--did not materialize in St.Clair's well-reasoned yet urgent musical perspective.

He coaxed from the orchestra unusually balanced, texturally rich playing and the transparency that comes from deep knowledge, on the part of the players, of the score and its wonted continuity.

In the Scherzo--which can be strident to the point of giving pain to the audience--the conductor avoided bombast and empty noise most of the time, and the orchestra continued to show high polish and strong convictions.

Not merely a respite from the climax-heavy orations around it, the subsequent Andante also became the occasion of some of the most touching and accomplished lyricism the Pacific Symphony now commands. The upper strings soared, and in genuine unison, creating sounds that gave opulent voice to Mahler's songfulness.

Here, as elsewhere, the exposed solo lines did not divert from, but rather complemented, the emotional progress of the work. Among others, the soloists were guest concertmaster Michelle Kim, clarinetist James Kanter and hornist John Reynolds.

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