Programming, being a mysterious art, makes its own laws. One of these is, build an agenda in a series of ascending climaxes.

But Keith Clark’s program for his latest Orange County Pacific Symphony concert placed the two piano concertos of Liszt in numerical order, anticlimactically. What to do? Soloist Jorge Bolet, one of the legendary Lisztians still on this planet, made the right decision: Reverse the order, playing No. 2 before intermission and No. 1 after.

Of course, it worked. The program began gamely, with three excerpts from Haydn’s opera, “Il Mondo della Luna,” then moved smoothly into the poetic and thoughtful joys of the A-major Concerto. After a generous interval, there came the more bombastic, rafter-ringing E-flat Concerto. Then, Clark and his ensemble concluded with even more brilliance in the suite from Bartok’s ballet, “A csodalatos mandarin.”


In the concertos, Bolet did not disappoint. He probed the songful portions of both works with deliberate pacing and honeyed tone, re-examining every melody with new-found affection. In oratorical passages, he stormed, ranted and made every octave speak. Bolet’s masterful playing remains cherishable for the freshness and passion with which he invests it; he seems incapable of making a routine or half-meant musical statement.

Except for some heart-stopping moments of faulty synchronization in both finales, Clark’s collaborations with the pianist emerged worthy.

The Haydn excerpts received careful treatment and neat contrasts. Bartok’s colorful ballet suite, if not always compelling in its details, offered strong ensemble values and handsome solos from within the orchestra.