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Classically Trained: Pianist gives stellar performance

September 27, 2012|By Bradley Zint
  • Carl St.Clair conducts the Pacific Symphony during opening night Sept. 20 at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.
Carl St.Clair conducts the Pacific Symphony during opening… (STEVEN GEORGES,…)

It was great to be indoors again.

After months in the summer heat — which got dangerously excessive at times for this orchestra to play in — at parks and the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, the Pacific Symphony returned to its Costa Mesa home base Sept. 20.

Within the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Carl St.Clair led the orchestra's opening downbeat to herald in its 34th season. Pianist André Watts was the featured guest, and it was a good turnout for a Thursday on the three-night series.

But before Watts stole the show came two Strausses to provide both a jovial and serious mood.

Johann Strauss Jr.'s overture from "Die Fledermaus" and Richard Strauss' suite from "Der Rosenkavalier" were varied choices to play for the first half. The latter was more listener-friendly even without its operatic accompaniment. The second was less so.

"Die Fledermaus" waltzed along nicely, the orchestra bowing, buzzing and blowing with a supple bounce. A good start.

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"Der Rosenkavalier" was expressively executed, though, as it seems to be the case with this orchestra more often than not, its pianissimo playing left much to be desired. But at the same time, there was plenty to savor: strong middle dynamics and fortes that often were brilliant.

After the intermission, in came Watts and his Steinway & Sons.

Young virtuosos may be flashy and brilliant, but there's something to be said about the veterans: less blaze, more substance. There is no substitute for experience, as they say.

Watts has plenty of it, being an acclaimed musician since his teenage years in the 1960s.

He brought those polished skills to Costa Mesa in grand style with the four movements of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2.

Most things Brahms rarely do much for me. Call me an outlier on the graphic displaying his legions of modern-day fans.

This piano concerto, though, is an exception to my otherwise uninterested attitude. And I, like most everyone else, was anything but bored when hearing Watts. He had us transfixed.

As it were, the symphony also sounded best as the important accompaniment to Watts' playing. As soloist and orchestra, the two gelled. Dynamics, balance, the musical dance of give and take — the product was as solid as I've heard in the hall in awhile.

The strings, especially, were stellar all night long.

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