Music Reviews : Youth Symphony Plays Strauss at UCLA
A single Richard Strauss tone poem offers an orchestra a formidable enough challenge, but the American Youth Symphony tackled two of them Sunday evening at Royce Hall and, a few battle scars notwithstanding, emerged victorious.
Opening with “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” the ensemble displayed remarkable virtuosity, dauntless stamina and fine control. Though conductor Mehli Mehta maintained rather inflexible tempos, he did inspire his troops to play with palpable enthusiasm, the brass section particularly. The various soloists performed with style and authority, particularly hornist Dorian Marks, E-flat clarinetist Heidi Amstutz and concertmaster Sze-Hang Wong.
Following intermission, two members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic joined the youth orchestra in presenting “Don Quixote.” Cellist Daniel Rothmuller served as a highly sensitive, profoundly heroic protagonist, exhibiting a wide range of expression and mood. Violist Richard Elegino made for a rather characterless Sancho Panza, for his playing showed little emotional scope. The orchestra encountered some intonation and technical problems, but proved itself able--in the “Ride Through the Air” variation, for instance--to make a truly glorious sound.
The only serious fault with Sunday’s performance was the presence of supertitles during “Quixote,” which told the ill-informed listener which variation he was listening to. To use such a distracting and unnecessary prop was an act more absurd than anything Cervantes’ hero ever did, considering Strauss’ music is already about as descriptive as music gets.