Music Reviews : 20th-Century Soviet Program in AYS Season Finale

If Mehli Mehta had ended the 25th anniversary season of his American Youth Symphony on less than an invigorating, powerful and heartfelt note, he would have surprised a few of the faithful.

Predictably, the 81-year-old conductor didn’t do either Sunday at Royce Hall, UCLA. Nor was that likely with a program of 20th-Century Soviets--big-boned music of Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Shostakovich, the kind this orchestra trainer regularly gives his young charges with great success.

What’s more, he had the estimable solo talents of Armen Guzelimian for the piano concerto of the late Aram Khachaturian.

And in an agenda that invited thoughts about the strife of people and nations responsible for great art, it was hard not to think of the Armenians’ present struggle while hearing Guzelimian’s soul-wrenching performance.


Beyond his technical command of this full-fisted score, with fleetness and clarity principal virtues, the pianist was able to curtail bombast in favor of refinement--without diminishing the full effect.

He mined the Eastern motifs for all their distantly sad ruminations and found a percussive urgency free of clangor, a forward compulsion infected with emotional heat.

Mehta and the orchestra were one with him. Earlier, they brought a skittering buoyancy to Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony. And after intermission they turned to Shostakovich’s mighty Fifth Symphony, detailing the epic sorrow and bitterness into which we now read the horrors of the Stalinist purges.

Everything--from an insinuating waltz to the pathos of the Largo to the furious, galvanizing energy of the finale--was there. Mehta doesn’t send his players or audiences home half-fed.