The pitfall of virtuosity is slickness, which conductor Vladimir Spivakov and his Moscow Virtuosi did not wholly avoid in concerts during the weekend in Los Angeles and Costa Mesa.
What is the point of such brilliant precision and polished elegance if Mozart's Symphony No. 29, played for some reason without pause between movements Friday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, emerges so streamlined and bland? Or if Tchaikovsky's dramatic Serenade for Strings, played on the same concert with the same ensemble qualities, sounds like mere salon music?
Spivakov seemed content to set tempos, beat time with swooping gestures and stay on the surface of this music.
Fortunately, he found more of the variety in style, form and character that Tchaikovsky put in "The Children's Album," a collection of 24 miniatures, Saturday in a program sponsored by the Philharmonic Society at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. Spivakov and Vladimir Milman orchestrated the piano original.
But in Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony, also on Saturday, despite the lovely reenactment of the premiere at which the musicians blew out their candles and walked off stage, Spivakov was back to an approach so refined and genteel that the conflict in the music turned pale.