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MUSIC REVIEW

Pacific Symphony Overcomes a Challenge

May 02, 1997|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moving toward the end of his seventh season as music director of the Pacific Symphony, Carl St.Clair continues to oversee an orchestra of increasing competence and confidence. His challenge remains in part, however, to bring unity out of its membership, which fluctuates due to Hollywood industry jobs.

It must be a little like crossing a river by hopscotching the ice floes.

Several principal players, for instance, were noticeably missing Wednesday in a program of Mozart and Dvorak at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. A number of unfamiliar musicians sat not only in the back chairs but in secondary positions, although undoubtedly the orchestra had been augmented for Dvorak's intoxicating Eighth Symphony.

More critically, a new concertmaster--a unifying force--has yet to be named, even though the position has gone vacant since January 1996.

Under the circumstances, one could only admire the unity and precision St.Clair elicited from the strings in Mozart's joyous "Impresario" Overture, even if his approach tended to be more weighty than fleet and incisive.

In Mozart's Second Violin Concerto, with soloist Cho-Liang Lin, however, conductor and orchestra took a very modest backseat, cautious in characterization and dynamics, not daring to participate as an equal or interesting partner.

Lin was a genial, fluent soloist, ever gallant, ever polite, never varying his voice, never exploiting contrasts in the discourse. He played cadenzas written for him by conductor Raymond Leppard.

For an untypical orchestra-accompanied encore, Lin played Fritz Kreisler's "Variations on a Theme of Corelli."

Dvorak's Eighth has moments in which the composer's high spirits mount to a kind of delirium, and one of these--the soaring brass fanfares in the second movement--provided the most genuinely exciting moment of the concert.

Generally, however, the performance was rough-hewn, with cohesiveness in the last movement particularly eluding the conductor. Still, the wind players and guest concertmaster Sergei Galperin, of the Houston Symphony, played their solos sweetly.

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