After a 22-year hiatus, the St. Louis Symphony is making a rare West Coast tour, but it was music director Leonard Slatkin--who was here just this summer for a week of concerts at Hollywood Bowl--whose efforts captured the greatest interest Friday evening, opening the classical series at El Camino College.
Howard Hanson's "Romantic" Symphony, No. 2, looked like the high point of Slatkin's soloist-less program, but instead the climax was an unexpectedly rethought, galvanic account of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.
Slatkin took the outer movements quickly, but not brusquely, making a viscerally and musically exciting roller coaster of the tempo changes in the opening movement. In all portions of the familiar work, speed did not preclude nuance.
The conductor insisted on an almost chamber music clarity of texture and line. His obviously well-drilled orchestra, dispersed flat without risers on the Marsee Auditorium stage, gave him everything he asked for in ensemble, with clean, lean, occasionally rough-grained sound.
The focused austerity of the orchestra's sound actually enhanced the suave Andante con Tenerezza of Hanson's Symphony. Where other conductors and ensembles find an opportunity for hyper-expressive opulence, Slatkin and Co. offered reflective poise and hymn-tune sincerity and simplicity.
The surrounding movements were not quite as successful, pervaded by a hectic, fevered feeling. Only at the end did Hanson's stubborn, iterative drive blossom into eloquent grandeur.
The concert began with Weber's 'Oberon' Overture, previously reviewed. Slatkin responded to the enthusiastic reception with a fleet, fey account of Faure's Pavane in encore.