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Music : Mester Musters New Concept in Pasadena

TIMES MUSIC WRITER

Here’s a concept: If one plans to end an orchestral program with one of the most famous works in symphonic history, why not begin that program with the least familiar item possible: a new, or almost-new, piece?

If followed, this strategy raises one crucial risk: The new or newish piece had better be of the highest possible quality. Otherwise, it might sound silly, juxtaposed against its better. . . .

Jorge Mester, leading the Pasadena Symphony in the fourth concert of its current winter season, adopted this concept Saturday night in Civic Auditorium, and wisely.

On a program ending with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, he started the evening with a recent work in its West Coast premiere. Happily for all--composer, conductor, orchestra and audience--Donald Crockett’s “Melting Voices” deserves the kind of important showcase it received on this occasion.

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As is well known by now--his progress as a young composer having been accomplished before the local musical public over the last decade and more--Crockett’s characteristic style is marked by an unfailing sense of dramatic continuity and motivation. In whatever medium, he communicates clearly and strongly, and with a kind of musical diction--atonal and pungent, to be sure, but neither stark nor bitter--one can only call mainstream.

“Melting Voices,” a 14-minute symphonic essay in three contrasting movements, invokes vague but suggestive Orientalisms, deals sometimes in Ravelian overtones, and ascends to sudden, Bartokian climaxes.

Yet at all points it avoids the twin traps of derivativeness and eclecticism; Crockett’s voice seems to be one of a kind. Mester and the full Pasadena complement gave what appeared to be an affectionate, tight and detailed reading.

At the other end of the evening, the music director led a disciplined, but far from straitjacketed, performance of the familiar Fifth Symphony, one clearly delineated and neatly balanced. Only a hint of glibness in the andante con moto and some timidity and thinning of textures in the passages connecting the Scherzo with the Finale kept this reading in moments earthbound.

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Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto separated the two contrasting works. Allison Eldredge’s achieved a handsome reading, one strongly supported by Mester and the orchestra; here, the work’s many facets shone and proved as effective as ever. In the numerous, exposed and formidable horn solos, James Thatcher covered himself with glory.


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