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Music review: Midori and Pacific Symphony at Segerstrom Concert Hall

September 25, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Midori

Brahms is never far from the heart of conductor Carl St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony. In February, they played the composer’s genial Third Symphony, and on Thursday they chose the larger, more darkly beautiful First for the latter half of their season-opening gala concert celebrating St.Clair’s 20th anniversary with the orchestra.

They were in wonderful form all night at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, starting with Frank Ticheli’s “Shooting Stars,” a short piece -- Copland seen through a Stravinskian  kaleidoscope -- long on orchestral color and rhythmic variety. It was a rousing curtain-raiser fitting the occasion for another reason. (The program repeats tonight and Saturday.)  Ticheli, who teaches composition at USC, wrote it for the orchestra’s 25th anniversary in 2003 while he was composer-in-residence.

Next, Midori performed Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with resourceful classical restraint. A prodigy who made her public debut at age 7, Midori proved that precocity need not impede maturity. She turns 38 next month – Tchaikovsky’s age when he composed this concerto. Some star soloists use the work for superficial display, but Midori adhered to what the composer once said he delighted in most about a violinist: “great expressivity, thoughtful finesse and poetry.”

The diminutive Midori used her entire body, producing an unsentimental, sweet tone. Her riveting dynamic control in shaping the first movement made for a slower-than-usual tempo, which paid exciting dividends during orchestral climaxes and transitions. Similarly, the Canzonetta, or “little song,” built gradually, allowing the work’s radiant core to emerge. In the breakneck Finale, Midori at times approximated the speedy passages, losing fullness of tone and clarity of articulation. “Do it with dash,” Heifetz once said, “then if you miss it, you miss it with dash.” She did it with dash.

St.Clair was an inspired collaborator, creating a near-ideal balance between soloist and orchestra. For once, Segerstrom Hall sounded properly tuned, with details like the Finale dialogue between oboe, clarinet and bassoon vividly present.

After intermission, St.Clair and the orchestra offered a richly imagined account of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. He conjured an autumnal glow from the strings, and captured the intense drama and breathtaking repose of this great score.

-- Rick Schultz

Pacific Symphony with Midori, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Drive,  Costa Mesa. 8 p.m. today and Saturday. $25-$185. (714) 755-5799.

Photo: Midori with Carl St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony. Credit: Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times

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