Michael Palmer, who conducted the Pacific Symphony on Wednesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, is an elegant and succinct musician. His baton technique is fluent and crystal-clear, no fuss, no muss. A musical phrase under Palmer's care is fit and tidy, standing tall, head high and walking with a purpose. The orchestra followed his every signal with ease, its playing emerging ensemble-tight and gracious.
In the program--which Palmer took over for the indisposed Bernhard Klee--Palmer's musicianship paid clear if uneven dividends. The music director of the American Sinfonietta produced nicely turned-out playing at all times, but it sometimes lacked interpretive distinction.
The fairy tale charm of Ravel's "Mother Goose" Suite found Palmer at his best. These little sound pictures, of Tom Thumb, Beauty, the Beast and others--are gem-like: melodies of nursery-rhyme simplicity orchestrated in sparkling miniature. Palmer nicely resisted the temptation of making this music big and Technicolor (as some do); he dovetailed phrases and textures, coaxed a chamber music camaraderie from his musicians and refused to dawdle needlessly.
His performance of Mussorgsky/Ravel's "Pictures at an Exhibition," on the other hand, was nothing special interpretively--Palmer seemed more concerned with the music's balances, tidiness and crispness than its lavish pictorialism.