Lorin Maazel conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony in a demanding but not very successful program Friday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.
The programming was demanding not because it included works by Stravinsky and Bartok--as well as the elusive Third Symphony by Rachmaninoff--but because it included theater-derived pieces by these composers--music that, in fact, unfolds in terms of stage and plot requirements, rather than in pure musical terms.
Those familiar with Stravinsky's (1908-1914) opera, "Le Rossignol," probably fared best in knowing what was going on in his "Chant du Rossignol," a symphonic poem he fashioned in 1917 from the second and third acts of the opera.
Maazel's treatment of the work was odd. He smoothed his way through the composer's signature disjunctive shifts in meter and rhythm, even when, as in the Emperor's March, each episode clearly delineates successive arrivals of more highly placed court functionaries. He made Stravinsky's piquant fable bland.
Still, flutist Bernard Goldberg and concertmaster Andres Cardenes played the original vocal lines with agility and sweetness.
Maazel fared better with the Suite from Bartok's ballet, "The Miraculous Mandarin," particularly in his control of the vivid and driving rhythms toward the end. Audience enthusiasm after this surely contributed to his offering an encore--the Farandole from Bizet's "L'Arlesienne" Suite No. 2.
Still, the conductor shortchanged the horrific, sardonic, acidic qualities of the score, which, together with the lurid plot, drove the first audience out of the hall at the premiere in 1926.
Rachmaninoff's Symphony began with promise, with Maazel, who conducted this and the other works from memory, lingering over phrasings. But ultimately he delivered a streamlined interpretation, cool, controlled and detached, with finicky details.
The Cerritos hall, arranged in its "lyric configuration," remained an acoustically problematic setting for an orchestra, lending it a hard, bright, edgy if clear sound. The Pittsburgh players occasionally lapsed in ensemble, but perhaps the setting made it hard for them to hear each other.