For Claudio Jaffe, at least, the grueling world of performance competitions seems to have conferred only blessings. Sunday evening, the young Brazilian cellist presented his prize-winning skills with the American Youth Symphony at Royce Hall, UCLA.
His vehicle was Dvorak's Concerto, and his intentions plainly passionate. For Jaffe, all demonstrative passages began with a heavy accent and ended with an urgent rip. His fingers and bow are fleet and reasonably accurate, but he emphasized bold sound and personal charisma, not finesse.
This is not to say Jaffe was incapable of reflection or simplicity. Unfortunately, those moments suffered most from the ragged accompaniment provided by conductor Mehli Mehta and his young charges.
Jaffe was certainly not the steadiest of soloists. But underrehearsal and Mehta's characteristic reliance on memory rather than the score seemed the compromising factors as the Adagio nearly unraveled under the stress of ensemble problems.
The orchestra's tone, however, was a positive element when the brass weren't overblowing. Articulation and intonation, particularly among the woodwinds, remained chronic problems. But Mehta made rich, noble sounds sweep along Schubert's "Great" C-major Symphony successfully.
Mehta reduced the "heavenly length" Schumann admired by quick tempos in the Andantes and by ignoring most of the repeat indications. Though unbalanced architecturally, the results kept the music forward-looking.