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Music Review

Pasadena Symphony Meets Challenges

February 05, 2001|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

Halfway through its 73rd season, the Pasadena Symphony continues to hold on to a tenuous virtuosity that can still surprise with its resources and power.

A challenging agenda for its February program, Saturday night in Pasadena Civic Auditorium, became a felicitous aural experience, and admirable in every sense, especially considering how often the orchestra does not meet, rehearse and exercise its musical muscles.

Technique, concentration and a stable body of personnel may account for the orchestra's substantial, demonstrated abilities--those plus the inspiring leadership of Jorge Mester, its conductor since 1984 and a maker of demanding programs of broad scope.

This one, listing Richard Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration" and Four Last Songs, and Schumann's exposing Second Symphony, was characteristic. When it was over, and successfully performed, one had to wonder how the resourceful Mester found a way to rehearse it all.

Even with occasional scrappiness and some tentative moments, Schumann's note-filled C-major Symphony emerged bracing and refreshing in a virtually immaculate orchestral reading, with all its facets indicated and most of its details cleanly outlined, the fast and dense second and fourth movements particularly apprehensible. The same description applied to Strauss' complex tone poem, which delivered both an emotional wallop and a kaleidoscopic instrumental palette through a well-paced continuity; Mester's vision made the total compelling.

Gorgeous orchestral surfaces, if a more limited dynamic range, characterized the playing in the Four Last Songs, Strauss' valedictory cycle. Here the soloist was the American soprano Linda Mabbs, who sang radiantly despite a recent foot injury (in the rehearsal period). Mabbs' pure, even tone and sensitive word-coloration lacked only the cutting edge to penetrate the orchestra's unrelenting thickness.

Contributing strong instrumental solos in the second and third songs were hornist James Thatcher and the concertmaster, violinist Aimee Kreston.

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