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Music Review

Mester Commands Contrasting Works

May 08, 2000|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

For their penultimate program of the season, conductor Jorge Mester and the Pasadena Symphony concocted a most fragrant Chopin sandwich: the E-minor Piano Concerto surrounded by two impressive 20th century North American works--William Schuman's "Three Places in New England" and Silvestre Revueltas' film suite from "La Noche de los Mayas."

The music was ear-opening and the performances tight and polished on Saturday night in Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Returning here after an absence, 63-year-old Spanish pianist Joaquin Achucarro gave a charming if somewhat standoffish reading to the E-minor Concerto, a performance most beguiling in the poetic slow movement, less compelling in the opening and the finale. After Martha Argerich's hyperactive playing of the same piece with the Los Angeles Philharmonic 13 months ago, one looked forward to a sensible re-creation of the dance-like third movement.

Achucarro, as expected, did not create, as did Argerich, a Mad Scene of a finale, yet he failed to make it bounce, and he certainly left off the verve and self-hypnotism his colleague demonstrated. Between the two extremes, one is forced to choose either the self-absorbed or the self-denying. Where is Garrick Ohlsson or Jon Nakamatsu when we need one of them?

In the Chopin accompaniment, as in the Schuman pieces and the Revueltas excerpts, the orchestra played with great, honed skill and without self-effacement. In the outer works, Mester kept everything in order: the massive choral passages and quiet prayerfulness of "Three Places in New England," and the imperturbable rhythmicality, juicy exoticisms and simple melodiousness of the Mexican composer's frenzied or songful orchestrations of folk expressions.

Particularly well-controlled, even at appropriately high-decibel levels, were the virtuosic contributions of a 13-member percussion section.

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