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Music review: Pacific Symphony at Segerstrom Concert Hall

February 26, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Danielpour, Richard_credit_Mike_Minehan Leonard Bernstein called it “a portrait of a nervous wreck … the first psychedelic symphony,” but conductor Carl St.Clair downplayed those neurotic, druggy facets of Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” Thursday with the Pacific Symphony in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. The first half of the program also offered a rousing curtain-raiser, Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture, and the premiere of Richard Danielpour’s “Mirrors,” his fourth piano concerto.

Though St. Clair strongly conveyed the pining lover in Berlioz’s ever-youthful programmatic score, a fussy “Daydreams, Passions” (the work’s first movement) and an overblown “Scene in the Country” (its third) made for a long night with this lovesick protagonist. St.Clair attempted to extract perhaps too much poetry and lyricism in an interpretation that lost focus and character.

The big moments in Berlioz’s obsessive 1830 masterpiece inevitably register in the concluding movements, the driving “March to the Scaffold” and spooky “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath.” But crude-sounding orchestral balances didn’t help matters, with cymbals and drums tearing through the musical fabric. Perhaps by Saturday's performance, when the concert is being broadcast live by KUSC (FM 91.5), St.Clair and his band will find ways to shape this large-scaled, early Romantic narrative into something more coherent.

Danielpour, 54, studied at Juilliard with composer-pianist Vincent Persichetti, who taught Philip Glass and Peter Schickele. It was Persichetti who said a good piece of music is “a work that is saying more about less, instead of less about more.” “Mirrors,” in five movements, runs about 22 minutes and makes a legitimate claim on the audience’s attention. It’s a well crafted piece, made up of sections with titles such as “The Trickster” and “The Warrior.” It was composed for Jeffrey Biegel, who performed it solidly, reading from the score.

“Mirrors” employs a number of styles, including those of Bartók and Bernstein, but the piece doesn’t feel pretentious or derivative. It is by turns percussive, lyrical, jazzy and percussive again. It is also emotionally direct and high-spirited. Biegel’s rounded tone was heard to best effect in the cadenza introducing the fourth movement, “The Poet.”

-- Rick Schultz

Pacific Symphony, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
$25 to $185. (714) 755-5799.

Photo: Richard Danielpour. Credit: Mike Minehan.