There's a first time for everything.
Saturday's performance at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre was reportedly the first time Carl St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony had performed Beethoven's Ninth Symphony together.
It was apparently also the first time that a large number of people in the officially counted audience of 7,744 had heard the work at all. Not surprisingly, they clapped between every movement. More dispiriting, they clapped in the middle of the fourth movement, during that momentous, portentous, dramatically pregnant, perfectly set up pause that poor Ludwig inserted just before the Turkish march. And here he thought he was communicating with mankind.
So, other than that, how was this first time? Like many another: more enthusiastic than polished, more earnest than effective, more promising than memorable in itself. But for all that, it was enjoyable.
In fact, the roughness in this performance stayed mostly around the edges--a botched transition here, some sloppy ensemble work there, misjudged balances elsewhere. St.Clair, who conducted from memory, doesn't seem to know the meaning of routine, so there was plenty of force and drama and sensitivity and joy.
The Pacific Symphony responded with an overall vigor and tidiness, if not the lushness and profundity of sound that is occasionally required here. One could blame the edgy amplification for part of that, and for some of the inequities in balance, too.
The solo quartet--soprano Karen Anderson, mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzman, tenor David Hamilton, baritone Kimm Julian--offered a warm, blended and strongly felt contribution. Hamilton reached a plateau above the rest in his exuberant solo in the Turkish march.
The Pacific Chorale summoned the required volume and enthusiasm while exhibiting a nice nimbleness and bounce in the rhythmic passages.
The concert (which was scheduled to repeat at Pearson Park Amphitheater in Anaheim on Sunday) had opened with some unusual summer fare, Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms," performed in honor of what would have been the composer's 75th birthday next month.
St.Clair led a crisp, delicate and appropriately theatrical reading. He kept the chorale alert to the tricky patter rhythms and got them to sing a true, well focused pianissimo. Boy soprano Anthony Kalomas sang the sentimental music in the second movement with charming innocence and pure, unaffected tone. No word on if it was his first time.