If one had to choose a single word to describe the conducting of John Larry Granger, it might be “efficient.” With his small, tidy gestures and equally neat, generally straightforward music-making, Granger has a businesslike presence on the podium.
And it works. Sunday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, he led the South Coast Symphony, now in its seventh season under his directorship, in polished, confident and mostly compelling performances.
Granger captured the bold spirit of Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, “The Inextinguishable,” with a strongly outlined, propulsively paced reading. The orchestra dug into the athletic bravura of the score, leaned into its lyricism, savored its rowdiness. It played with a poise and enthusiasm that belied its part-time status, the string section in particular revealing cohesive ensemble and power.
If Granger’s reading smoothed over some of the mystery and quirkiness of the score, it did gain momentum as it unwound. The bright Barclay acoustic, though a problem in the more heavily scored passages, rendered instrumental timbres sharp and textures clear.
As part of the celebrations of Mozart’s death year, the orchestra offered a performance of the Clarinet Concerto with David Shifrin as soloist. Shifrin used a custom-built, extended-range instrument similar to the one used in Mozart’s day, and a restored version of the score (the original is lost). From this standpoint alone, his performance shed fresh light on this familiar music, more clearly revealing, for instance, Mozart’s clever use of register in the solo part.
Shifrin also proved a mellow, persuasive protagonist, bringing effortless fluidity to virtuoso passages and breathless, subtly curved phrasing to the more tuneful music. (Given the degree to which Shifrin was communicative, it seemed a shame that the stage lighting threw him into shadow). Granger led a warm, pertinent account of the accompaniment.
To open the concert Granger offered, with a minimum of gesture, a prim, brightly lit reading of Rossini’s Overture to “L’Italiana in Algeri.”