From a glance at the San Diego program, it looked like another ho-hum evening of predictable standards. But guest conductor Bernhard Klee took the starchy Germanic menu--Mendelssohn, Mozart and Brahms--and stylishly served it as if it were nouvelle cuisine .
With the orchestra eagerly doing his bidding, Klee opened the program by sailing gracefully through Mendelssohn's hoary "Fingal's Cave " Overture. Seldom have the local cellos sounded so lyrical and dulcet. The orchestra's attacks were pristine, its ensemble tight and clearly focused.
It was, however, the Brahms First Symphony in which the orchestra found its full stride. From the ponderous, organ-like sonorities of the first movement to the nobility of the finale's life-affirming theme, Klee cultivated a heroic breadth that never lost its emotional urgency or immediacy. The inner movements danced with a sunny optimism, with textures as clearly etched as the intimate counterpoint of a string quartet.
Conducting from memory, Klee allowed no detail to escape his notice. But the goal was always to fit each segment into Brahms' over-arching blueprint. For the first time this season, the orchestra exuded the professional confidence which a year of acrimonious negotiations and not playing together seriously eroded. Their sound was luminous and cohesive, a tribute to leadership the players evidently respected and trusted.
The evening's only cipher was Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich, soloist in Mozart's C Major Piano Concerto, K. 503. The expatriate U.S. pianist offered a fussy, old-fashioned look at Mozart, quite at odds with the clear-textured simplicity which Klee and the orchestra essayed.
Bishop-Kovacevich flooded his otherwise fastidious fingering with excessive use of the damper pedal, generating a hazy, Impressionistic blur. In a work whose structure is paramount, he constantly attempted to fashion pretty melodies.
In the middle movement, his interpretation was overwrought, and he reduced the rondo theme of the last movement to a precious caricature. It proved more rewarding to ignore the pianist and concentrate on the orchestra's articulate accompaniment.