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Pasadena Symphony Plays Superb Mahler

February 12, 1996|TIMOTHY MANGAN

Long, long ago--OK, two and a half weeks ago--the legendary St. Petersburg Philharmonic came to town and flexed its muscle in Mahler's titanic First Symphony.

Saturday, some local freelancers who get together for five concerts a year and call themselves the Pasadena Symphony took on the same challenge. It was no contest.

Whereas in the hands of the St. Petersburgians, Mahler's opus became something of a lump of oatmeal (albeit a luxurious lump), under the care of Jorge Mester and the Pasadenans, the music jumped vividly to life--it grabbed you by the lapels, shouted in your face and whispered in your ear, roared at the gods and evoked sweet dreams. In short, it was a real kick.

Credit Mester with bringing urgency to every last note of his insightful and complex interpretation, a fluidly lyrical, propulsively rhythmic, expertly paced and quickly passionate vision. The orchestra caught his fire and followed his signaling avidly, balancing polish and abandon, power and poetry. The moral of the story is that accomplished Mahlerites spring up in unlikely places. Count Mester and his band among them.

The concert began with a steady, sober run-through of "Siegfried" slices, Wagner's "Forest Murmurs." Then followed some provocative ear stretching in the form of Messiaen's "Oiseaux Exotiques," with Nicholas Angelich as piano soloist.

A frenetic catalog of bird sounds, "Oiseaux Exotiques" shuns pleasant twitter in favor of acidic, steamy, blaring and busily ornate buzz--an effective palette cleaner between the Wagner and Mahler. The 26-year-old Angelich dashed through the whirling challenge with great flair and clarity, while Mester and company added their own biting incisiveness.

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