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Orchestra's Skillful Playing Can't Always Rescue Material

Music Review

March 29, 1999|JOSEF WOODARD

As led by the estimable and adventurous JoAnn Falletta, the Long Beach Symphony can generally be counted on to deliver the goods, technically, and offer a surprise or two up the programming sleeve. That mandate was upheld Saturday at the Terrace Theater, even if the sum effect proved less than wholly satisfying. In a program devoted mainly to music with Jewish themes and/or by Jewish composers, intentions and orchestral execution were sometimes more solid than the material itself.

Saint-Saens' Bacchanale, from his opera "Samson and Delilah," is a fine enough concert-opening bonbon, but Karol Rathaus' incidental music for "Uriel Acosta" was, well, light and incidental. In the Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story," Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal's arrangement doesn't quite make a convincing translation of Leonard Bernstein's musical theater writing to the concert stage. Jazz-based treatments such as Dave Grusin's arrangement, have made a stronger, more streetwise case for this work's validity as instrumental music.

That said, the real centerpiece of the program was Ernest Bloch's moving Schelomo, Hebrew Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra, a piece propped up with angst and melancholy. Cellist John Walz--Los Angeles-born, widely respected and the principal cellist in Long Beach--neatly conveyed the singing, pining phrases of the work, summoning up passion and lucidity where needed.

Poignancy sneaked in the side door when Falletta announced a last-minute addition in the concert's second half, of music by the late Jewish composer Franz Schreker. Tender excerpts from his suite "The Birthday of the Infanta" served as a commemoration of the many Jewish composers who died in the Holocaust, whose musical fruits we never got to hear.

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