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Music Review

A Too-Distant Pacific

Merely presentable playing and an unemotional performance by soloist Panayis Lyras fail to engage the listener.

May 07, 1999|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

For his penultimate Pacific Symphony program of the season, Carl St.Clair chose an elegant and balanced program and introduced yet another splendid piano soloist for his loyal--and, this time, capacity--audience in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

Yet, Wednesday, at the first of two performances, though program and soloist came together nicely, they did so on a lower level of excitement than one might have expected.

Accomplished playing in both Mozart's "Haffner" Symphony and Richard Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration" ("Tod und Verklarung") never reached that point where skill and inspiration meet and integrate. Both readings moved along, but without urgency or deep involvement from the podium. And the orchestra's playing was fine but merely dutiful.

In both works, music director St.Clair seemed to be presiding over a sonic haze that offered little in the way of transparency of textures or clear separation of orchestral choirs.

Perfectly presentable playing in the Mozart symphony never became sparkling. In Strauss' kaleidoscopic tone-poem, even well-produced dynamic contrasts did not achieve emotional peaks and valleys. These performances failed to engage the listener.

Panayis Lyras, who came to wide exposure as a finalist in the extraordinary class of 1981 at the Van Cliburn International Competition, was the soloist, closing the evening with an unmesmerizing if honest performance of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto.

The 45-year old pianist met its myriad challenges without making it his own; while playing all the notes in the first movement, he did not go from the prosaic into the magical, as this Allegro should.

In that opening, two things were against him: the instrument--a very dull Steinway--and a deliberate tempo. Neither seemed to make success possible. By the time of the finale, however, more blood was moving, and more quickly; the movement's peaks were achieved, and both pianist and orchestra hit their stride in the last 10 minutes. Just in time.

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