It's the music lover's dilemma. Do you want brilliant sound or a great performance, assuming you can't have both?
That would have been the correct assumption for the most part when Giuseppe Sinopoli led his Dresden Staatskapelle in two programs over the weekend at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, courtesy of the Philharmonic Society. It was Sinopoli's first visit to the Southland since he led the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1986 at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.
The conductor presided over an orchestra of exemplary transparency, richness, brilliance and balance. The strings played with crisp and incisive verve. The winds made distinctive contributions. The brass had weight and depth. All this he held together in perfect equilibrium.
It was impossible not to be impressed. It was easier, however, not to be moved.
The high points probably occurred Sunday afternoon with Strauss' "Don Juan," which emerged as a sonic tour de force, and Schumann's Cello Concerto, with Jan Vogler as an eloquent soloist.
Vogler played with a lean but even sound throughout the range. But it was the matching and meshing of phrase between him and the orchestra that particularly captured attention and merited praise.
With Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony, also on Sunday, however, brilliance of sound was not enough to offset an unprobing, unromantic interpretation.
Sinopoli steered a clear course through the music, avoiding interpretive excesses but also eliminating the Slavic soul and conflict.
Anxiety became mere restlessness. Yearning and aspiration turned into suave melody. Terror and struggle became fortissimo passage work. It was especially odd to see the conductor pay so much attention to shaping detail in the march as opposed to the emotionally complex other movements, but the snappy playing there won spontaneous applause afterward from the audience.
The Saturday program included Bruckner's Fourth Symphony, which Sinopoli interpreted more as a succession of individual if related scenes than a motion picture. Again, the virtues of clarity, balance and brilliance were evident.
The program began with a somewhat hurried account of Strauss' "Metamorphosen," his valedictory to the 19th century.
The orchestra played the Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" that evening as an uncommonly substantial encore.