MUSIC REVIEW : Orchestra Opens Season : South Coast Symphony earns standing ovation from audience at Irvine Barclay Theatre.

TIMES MUSIC WRITER

Brilliance can be its own reward--especially in the concert hall. Performances that probe deeply into music are of the kind we remember years later, but performances that bring people to their feet offer instant gratification for all concerned.

The hall-filling audience for the opening-night performance by the South Coast Symphony came to its feet enthusiastically and unreluctantly Saturday night, after pianist Stephen Prutsman, conductor John Larry Granger and the orchestra played Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. It was an exhilarating moment.

That reception in Cheng Hall at the Irvine Barclay Theatre at UC Irvine had been honestly earned.

Prutsman, the deeply resourceful, highly individual and--sometimes most important--technically undaunted American musician and international competition winner, sailed handsomely through this rewarding work with great authority and no perspiration.

There may be more levels of color and nuance in this piece than the 30-year-old Prutsman actually delivered, but its contrasts--as well as every one of its notes--he served well, and convincingly.

Granger and the orchestra supported the pianist solidly and spiritedly, with no letdown of energy through the length of the work.

The orchestra's founder and music director, whose programs consistently avoid the hackneyed, surrounded the familiar concerto with more orchestral brilliance. The complete agenda, indeed, may have been too rich, too emotional--and too demanding--for one occasion.

Elgar's "Enigma" Variations became its touching closer, in a canny showcase for the ensemble's accomplishments.

If polish--though not gameness--was in short supply, consider the exigencies of the piece, with its exposed instrumental writing and solo lines. The soloists did splendidly, but recurring raggednesses and a lack of orchestral transparency revealed the ambitiousness of playing this work at the end of the program.

The overture was a neglected rouser from a neglected master, Darius Milhaud's "Suite Provencale," as merry an opener as any concert ever had, and a reminder that there are always beautiful pieces awaiting revival. Granger & Co. brought out its punch, its poignancy and its prickliness.

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