Music Reviews : Redlands Symphony Inaugurates Rejuvenated Hall

After five years of fund-raising, wall-scraping, sound system updating and ceiling mural restoration, the Inland Empire now has a rejuvenated hall that it expansively celebrates as "the largest performing arts facility in San Bernardino County."

Thursday night Gardiner Spring Auditorium, on the Chaffey High School campus in Ontario, received its figurative magnum of champagne across the bow.

The Redlands Symphony, led by its music director, Jon Robertson, inaugurated what the Gardiner Spring Society for the Performing Arts hopes will be a long future as a concert hall for the 50-year-old building.

Robertson invited pianist Daniel Pollack to participate in a program consisting of Wagner's Prelude to "Die Meistersinger," Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, more than ample fare to test soundly the mettle of any hall, any orchestra, any soloist.

The results proved equivocal.

Refurbished is not synonymous with acoustically renovated, and there may well have to be some adjustments before Gardiner Spring constitutes a truly hospitable environment for large-scale music making.

Instrumental overtones were dampened to a degree that robbed the orchestral sound of brilliance and gave the aural impression of an invisible lid on the proceedings. Brass and woodwinds shone to greater advantage than high strings.

Pollack is a pianist with strength to spare, yet his tone lost power, color and quality when he ventured into the treble octaves.

Together, he and Robertson offered one of the most sober readings of the Tchaikovsky concerto within memory.

The pianist concentrated on the music modestly, overcoming each bravura hurdle in the score with detached equanimity, cheating not one bit, but leaving some doubt as to his emotional involvement.

In the outer movements, Pollack clearly preferred faster tempos than Robertson vouchsafed. Had he gotten them, the performance might have taken wing.

The Beethoven emerged the clear success. Despite weaknesses, there were none of the ensemble problems that flared up regularly in the concerto.

Though Robertson's low-key direction appeared laissez faire, the well-prepared orchestra seemed to understand, providing animation without haste, solidity without stodginess and a graceful sense of architecture--with no letdown anywhere.

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