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Music Review

Smaller Ensemble Shows Its Muscle

May 31, 1999|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

Positive downsizing has been a boost for the Asia America Symphony, an orchestra that in decades past was a medium-sized, community-based ensemble and gave infrequent and ambitious concerts in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion under the name Japanese Philharmonic Orchestra.

The renamed unit has become a chamber orchestra, still including a number of Asian instrumentalists, and now under the leadership of the talented and authoritative Heiichiro Ohyama. This weekend the group concluded its modest, four-concert 40th season in the James Armstrong Theater at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center.

And it's doing extremely well, if the performance heard Saturday night is representative. A program of Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik," Haydn's C-major Cello Concerto and Schubert's exposing Fifth Symphony revealed the ensemble's many strengths, perhaps the most striking of which is its accomplished, singleminded string section.

These strings benignly dominated Schubert's beloved Fifth Symphony, especially its challenging second movement and its transparent, bubbling finale. Some raggedness and overplaying from the winds in the Andante notwithstanding, the heart of the work emerged lyrically engrossing and handsomely realized.

In the "Nachtmusik," Ohyama and his 22 string players achieved clean and purposeful playing through this most familiar of scores, realizing its details and respecting its flow.

Cecilia Tsan, the orchestra's principal cellist, was featured at concert's center in a commanding, full-throated performance of the Haydn Concerto. In the breadth of her virtuosity and the charisma of her musical personality, Tsan made this work her own and delivered its many facets to her audience. Except for some momentary nervousness in the finale, this was a performance of high energy and deep feelings. Ohyama and his players supported the soloist wholeheartedly.

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