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Let’s hear it for the orchestra

December 2, 2005

The Pacific Symphony’s 2005-06 season, its last in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center before it moves into its soon-to-be-completed new home across the street next fall, continues apace. Wednesday, music director Carl St.Clair brought together two beloved masterpieces from the North with a brand-new commissioned work from Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen.

It was a brilliant evening of robust music making, ending with the many glories in the finale of Jan Sibelius’ familiar Second Symphony, but that wondrous score this time lacked its usual subtleties.

Instead of building the work’s climaxes cumulatively, St.Clair let them loose too early. The turgid second movement achieved a series of high points that undermined the narrative structure of the whole.

Nonetheless, this was an impressive display of the orchestra’s many virtues. The brass, and in particular the horns, made glorious and mellow sounds; the strings soared, and the woodwinds contributed poignantly.

At the beginning of the concert, Prangcharoen’s “Sattha” (Fate), in its world premiere, showed the 32-year-old composer’s gifts for creating orchestral color – the 11-minute piece is scored for strings and percussion – and compelling sound effects.

Inspired by the devastating Asian tsunami of 2004, the piece moves from relative quietude into dismaying violence. Particularly striking were solo contributions from principal cellist Timothy Landauer and concertmaster Raymond Kobler. The composer’s obvious future would be in film scoring.

A regular soloist with the Pacific Symphony, the French Canadian pianist Alain Lefevre returned this week for two performances of the Grieg Concerto. It remains a great and sometimes forgotten work; Lefevre played it Wednesday for its glitter and dash, giving a one-dimensional and showy reading with few charms. He chose speed over clarity, and his tone emerged consistently harsh and driven.

Still, St.Clair and the orchestra accompanied him sensitively, and the large audience gave him a standing ovation.