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Music | MUSIC REVIEW

Pacific Symphony is off to a rich start

September 24, 2004|Daniel Cariaga | Special to The Times

The first program of Carl St.Clair's 16th season as music director of the Pacific Symphony, given Wednesday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, had what one might expect from this important regional orchestra now beginning its 26th year: substance, variety, color and seriousness. But it had more. It offered deep pleasure and high entertainment.

Immaculate performances and meticulous preparation accounted for part of the persuasiveness of the occasion. A canny combining of music by Giovanni Gabrieli, William Kraft, Niccolo Paganini and Ottorino Respighi also contributed. And there was the appearance of stunning young violinist Hilary Hahn as soloist in Paganini's Concerto No. 1.

Although Hahn's charismatic and engaging virtuosity provided the center, the entire performance had energy and brilliance.

St.Clair has become a significant musical leader in his years on this podium. Those of us who were skeptical at the beginning of his tenure can now see the results of his bold orchestra-building, his growing mastery of the repertory and his expanding astuteness at the art of programming.

He began smartly Wednesday with Gabrieli's Canzona Septimi Toni No. 2, played by eight of the orchestra's brass players. There followed Kraft's ear-filling "Vintage Renaissance" (1989), a kaleidoscopic, inventive re-imagining of two 15th and 16th century tunes, for full, and resourcefully used, orchestra. The Paganini concerto -- played superbly and soulfully by Hahn, who was assisted with depth and sensitivity by conductor and orchestra -- concluded the first half.

"Roman Festivals," the riotous sound-adventure Respighi wrote to conclude his colorful symphonic trilogy, ended this joyous performance in a technically accomplished, dynamically wide-ranging and highly detailed reading, a tour de force promising much for this season.

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