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MUSIC REVIEWS

L.B. Symphony Up to Challenge

September 23, 1996|DANIEL CARIAGA

Later, in this newest Long Beach Symphony season, JoAnn Falletta will conduct bona fide peaks of the repertory, masterpieces by Brahms, Berlioz, Mahler, Dvorak, Mozart and Rachmaninoff. For the opening, however, the music director chose works of the second rank.

Thus, the orchestra's 62nd season began with Christopher Rouse's amusing but gimmicky "The Infernal Machine," the tawdry Piano Concerto (1936) by Aram Khachaturian and Richard Strauss' refulgent but bloated "Ein Heldenleben." Even the most eloquent arts apologist would have trouble describing this agenda as musically relevant in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, it was brilliantly performed by the highly accomplished ensemble Saturday night in the Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention Center. The orchestra achieved the symphonic equivalents of cartwheels, hoops and somersaults in these demanding scores and even found a plateau of mellowness in the most exposing parts of Strauss' grandiose tone-poem.

All parts of the orchestra shone here, but particularly the virtuosic brass choir--including eight horns, led by Calvin Smith--and concertmaster Roger Wilkie, who played those high-flying violin solos fearlessly and with golden tone. Strauss may have gone on too long, but these players made it all sound important.

Resourceful in every wise, pianist Dora Serviarian-Kuhn returned after an absence to resurrect the vehicle of her last visit (in 1978), the extended Khachaturian Concerto. She still plays it convincingly, despite its longueurs, but no amount of panache or affection can save it from its own obsolescence. Like a worn-out roue, it continues to try to peddle charms long faded.

The jolly opener to these proceedings was Rouse's busy but purposeful "The Infernal Machine," a perpetual-motion construct clearly designed to warm up both players and listeners through an illusion of frenzy. In those limited terms, it works. Falletta & Co., beginning their eighth year together, played it smirkily.

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