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Risks From Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo

April 21, 1998|JOHN HENKEN

Programming can pose tough problems for a touring orchestra, something confirmed by the unprepossessing agendas visitors often bring us.

The Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo and music director James DePreist, however, made winning choices for their Philharmonic Society concert Sunday afternoon at Segerstrom Hall of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

An orchestra on tour wants to show off both its technical prowess and its artistic commitment, but it has to do this in unfamiliar halls on limited rehearsal. That makes a complex, richly textured and unhackneyed work like Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 an effective but distinctly risky selection.

DePreist takes an uncommonly reflective approach to music that is usually described in terms of brash youth. Though not at all shy about the explosive dynamism and motor energies of the outer movements, he filled the vast, slow center with an impressive philosophical weight.

The ornate air sculptures DePreist sometimes carved with his baton did not always enhance optimal ensemble communication, but he did allow respectful scope for the characterful solos in which this symphony abounds. His talented musicians took those opportunities with flair and conviction and in mass played with zest and real sonic impact.

The featured soloist on this 15-concert U.S. tour is Ignat Solzhenitsyn, in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4. Making the piano sing is a conventional image, but this outwardly cool and analytical pianist actually can make the instrument chuckle, as he did in some of the first movement passage-work. He also floats elegant lyric lines, indicates vehemence when appropriate and misses few if any of the notes Beethoven scatters in generous double handfuls up and down the keyboard.

Solzhenitsyn did seem uncertain at times about the size of his interpretation. DePreist reduced the orchestra by only a handful of strings, and his accompaniment became unwieldy in some moments of agitation and could sound thick as well as soft elsewhere.

DePreist and the orchestra came out blazing in Berlioz's "Roman Carnival" Overture. In encore DePreist led a warm, affectionate reading of "Le Jardin Feerique" from Ravel's "Ma Mere l'Oye" Suite, and he sat back with arms folded while his accomplished ensemble dashed vigorously through the Farandole from Bizet's "L'Arlesienne" Suite.

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