Now in his fourth season with the Pasadena Symphony, Jorge Mester has done everything to maintain the reputation for fresh, compelling programming established by his predecessor, Daniel Lewis. His concert agenda Saturday evening proved no exception, offering plenty to reward the more jaded listeners while not alarming the comfortably settled traditionalists.
Mester's centerpiece was the Concerto for Seven Winds (1949) by the Swiss composer Frank Martin. A strong, piquant, Bartokian concerto grosso, it merits more than novelty status.
The ardent, effective soloists--all Pasadena Symphony principals--were Louise Di Tullio, flute; John Winter, oboe; Dominick Fera, clarinet; Michael O'Donovan, bassoon; James Thatcher, French horn; Burnette Dillon, trumpet, and William Booth, trombone. Timpanist Kenneth Watson also contributed bold solo work.
Mester led a tight, brisk reading, full of humor but always ready to turn to high drama. Martin's Concerto is clearly structured and rhythmically complex, qualities which Mester's forward-looking interpretation emphasized.
Quick tempos seemed to be the order of the night. Precision and energetic drive characterized Mester's account of Dvorak's Symphony No. 6 more than lyric swooning, despite the swirls and curlicues in his baton style.
The Pasadenans played with a vigorous spirit and brilliant sound. Mester allowed some balances to tilt in favor of the winds in full passages, but the general effect was one of imposing control.
The evening began with the familiar strains of Richard Strauss' "Don Juan," as fast, crisp and determined as Mester's other interpretations. He stressed the inherent character drama rather than sonic sensuality, and the results sometimes seemed unduly brusque. The orchestra provided an elegant, though occasionally overachieving, performance.