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Verrot & Co. Finish With a Bang

September 09, 1996|SUSAN BLISS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — The casualness of the audience, the humming of the insects, the cooling night air and the hot stage lights all seemed to hinder concentration in the opening of the Pacific Symphony's 10th annual "Tchaikovsky Spectacular" on Saturday night, the orchestra's last concert of its summer series at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

The Second Symphony, subtitled "Little Russian" for its use of Ukranian folk tunes, began with a hesitant horn solo--difficult even under controlled conditions--and continued as an unfocused study in colors.

By the end of the first movement, however, hornist James Taylor's sure reprise of the theme, "Down by the Mother Volga," heralded general coalescence, and guest conductor Pascal Verrot--music director of Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec--was able to turn the group to a more purposeful performance.

Using a podium style that approached mime, Verrot led taut and determined readings of the Scherzo and the Finale, full of muscular accents and engaging contrasts, and prefaced by a leisurely paced, lyric "Andantino marziale."

Unfortunately, the orchestra's level of involvement did not communicate itself to Russian-born Levon Ambartsumian, who made a businesslike American debut as soloist in the Violin Concerto. Except for glimpses of elegance--particularly in duets with first-chair woodwind players, during the "Canzonetta"--Ambartsumian was calculated where he might have been daring and kept his part static when it could have been propulsive.

Verrot directed a thoughtful, well-voiced performance of the "1812" Overture, despite anticipation of impending cannon and fireworks explosions that might have impeded concentration among the more fainthearted. During the fireworks, the Huntington Beach Concert Band joined to provide a bigger boom.

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