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Music Review

Stern Elicits Best in Pacific Symphony


Guest conductor Michael Stern worked magic on the Pacific Symphony on Wednesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Rarely has the Santa Ana-based orchestra sounded so stylish, unified, purposeful, balanced, transparent, nuanced and, in a word, musical as it did in a four-part Mostly Mozart program under the young American conductor.

Stern had stepped in on short notice for violinist-conductor Jean-Jacques Kantorow, head of orchestras in Paris and Helsinki, Finland, who, according to orchestra management, had had visa problems.

Stern's bio said that he was the first American chief conductor in the history of the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony, a post he was offered "almost immediately" after making his debut with that German orchestra. The reasons why quickly became apparent.

With meaningful, efficient gestures and without tense control over every note, Stern let the music (by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and George Walker) breathe and the musicians play.

From a multitude of details, consider just one: his eliciting a rare Pacific Symphony pianissimo in a deeply moving account of the Pregheria (based on a Liszt transcription of "Ave verum corpus") in Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 4 ("Mozartiana").

Andreas Haefliger was a fluent yet subtle soloist in Mozart's C-minor Piano Concerto. With an evenness in dynamic that almost became austere, Haefliger sculpted phrases with refinement and taste, and he made the final movement the heart of the work. He and Helge Evju wrote the cadenzas.

Pacific concertmaster Raymond Kobler was the soloist in Mozart's Adagio in E, K. 261, and Rondo in B flat, K. 269. He played with customary grace and sweetness, showing how close tears were to surface smiles in the former and how varied were comic-opera characterizations in the latter. He was also expert in his "Mozartiana" solo.

In that work, too, principal clarinetist James Kanter played his cadenza with whimsy.

Like Barber's Adagio for Strings, which seems its model, Walker's "Lyric for Strings" began life as a movement in his first string quartet (1947). It was rescored in 1980. It is a lovely, direct, economical six-minute work that deserves frequent hearings.

Stern led the orchestra in a spirited account of the Overture to Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" as the single encore.

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