By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News/
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/San Bernardino Sun
Pasadena Symphony Orchestra, Jorge Mester, conductor; Rueibin Chen, pianist
Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody No. 1; Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major; Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor
Sat., Nov. 17; Pasadena Civic Auditorium;
Last night's Pasadena Symphony concert was one of those perplexing evenings that occasionally pop up seemingly out of nowhere. There were many notable moments along with some that were less memorable: overall, a mostly satisfying but not overwhelming evening at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
Part of that dichotomy can be traced to the orchestra, which at times played at the exalted level it often reaches but in other stretches seemed somewhat off the mark. Along the way, there was some occasional splatty work from the horns and a few sonic imbalances, as well. An overly hot hall didn't help matters any, and the program itself also offered little assistance, ending as it did with Brahms' dour fourth symphony. Yet even in that dark work, there were moments of sublime beauty -- just not enough of them.
Music Director Jorge Mester opened this second concert of the orchestra's 80th season with Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, which began with splendid solo work from Clarinetist Donald Foster and Oboeist David Weiss (and, later on, from Flutists Louise DiTulio and Sarah Weisz). Leisurely tempos at the start gave way to Enescu's breakneck finale and the orchestra's playing was at its best during this piece.
Chinese-Austrian pianist Reuibin Chen was the soloist for Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major. The 40-year-old Chen has garnered noteworthy reviews playing Rachmaninoff's five pieces for piano and orchestra, but in a pre-concert interview, he said, "Ravel is not Rachmaninoff." Maybe not, but to these ears, Chen's way with Ravel sounded like how the Russian pianist-composer would have played it: big-boned and muscular.
Apart from a few miscues early on, Chen reveled in the virtuosic moments in the outer two movements and had some distinctive things to say about this jazz-permeated work; you might not have agreed with all of his concepts, but he put them across with authority.
Although there were moments when he and Chen didn't seem to be on the same page, Mester clearly enjoyed matching the pianist with forthright accompaniment. Yet the highlight was right where it should be: the mystical second movement, which unfolded with lyrical loveliness despite a salvo of coughs from the audience that nearly destroyed the mood.
To my mind, Brahms' Symphony No. 4 in E minor is the hardest of the composer's four symphonies to appreciate and Saturday night's performance did nothing to win me over (I'm not alone; J.F. Runciman, in an 1897 London Saturday Review, wrote, "There is no more intolerably dull symphony in the world than the E minor").
Last night, the first movement seemed to meander and the fourth movement never took flight, but the orchestra's lush, dark string tone in the second movement nearly compensated. The audience responded with dutiful but not exuberant applause, which just about equated to my feelings about the whole affair.
(c) Copyright 2007, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.