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MUSICAL REVIEW : Perick’s Baton Tickles Symphony Into a Lively, Coquettish Mood

While the San Diego Symphony is seeking a new music director, it is equally true that likely candidates are looking the orchestra over from their perch at the conductor’s podium. Thursday night at Symphony Hall, the local orchestra demonstrated that it could be a desirable match for a prospective suitor, especially if the candidate sports the conducting finesse of Christof Perick.

Not surprisingly, Perick, who is music director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, penciled in an all-German program on the symphony’s dance card. Especially in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the “Pastorale,” the orchestra proved to be light on its feet.

Perick coaxed a warm, generous sound from the orchestra; the players matched his conducting authority with crisp attacks in the opening movement and unusually lyrical flights in the second movement. Flaunting a succession of crystalline solos by the woodwind principals--always this orchestra’s strongest suit--the orchestra was clearly in a coquettish mood.

There was a down side to Perick’s Beethoven, however. If the elegant German conductor paid a great deal of attention to detail, and he did conduct the Beethoven without a score, he also tended to cast each movement in a monochromatic hue. Like his interpretation of the program opener, Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” each movement seemed suspended in a static pose, lovely but undramatic.

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This was an ironic flaw from a conductor whose metier is opera, a medium dramatic by definition. Perick’s Wagner had the pastel passions of a Debussy or Delius, but barely hinted at his fellow countryman’s effusion in this musical bouquet.

Jeffrey Kahane, the young American pianist who impressed local audiences at last August’s SummerFest in La Jolla, was soloist in Mozart’s D Minor Piano Concerto, K. 466. A perceptive performer with a solid but refined technique, Kahane was ideally suited to this proto-Romantic concerto. His best artistic intentions were foiled, however, by a sadly inadequate instrument.

In place of the orchestra’s usual Steinway, Kahane was given a newly marketed American piano, a Falcone. This Boston-built piano had a weak, dull treble range and a generally thin timbre that muted most of the shading and nuance the pianist was attempting to infuse into the shapely Mozartean lines.

Since the Kahane keyboard demeanor is decidedly aristocratic, well-groomed and impeccably executed, he was aptly paired with Perick. The orchestra gave a more polished account of this week’s Mozart concerto than it did of last week’s Mozart symphony. It should have been a memorable performance, but the brittle-sounding Falcone was the weak link.

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Because of Perick’s heavy European musical responsibilities, his name is probably not high on the orchestra management’s realistic wish list of potential music directors. In truth, were he looking for an American orchestra, he could probably do better than San Diego. But this gentleman caller did bring out the San Diego Symphony’s more comely attributes.


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