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Principal’s Poetic Interest

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elgar composed his remarkable Cello Concerto in despair over the human and cultural carnage of World War I.

Among its many telling elements, one moment in particular embodies the composer’s venturing himself as witness and conscience of his time.

It was in this moment--the brief solo introducing the final movement--that Timothy Landauer most fully expressed his poetic artistry Wednesday night, making his concerto debut with the orchestra in which he serves as principal cellist, the Pacific Symphony under the direction of Carl St.Clair.

Landauer played with his usual deeply felt musical intelligence and keen sense of collaboration with his colleagues. Yet there was an edge of unfamiliar tension. Write it off, reasonably, to debut nerves.

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St.Clair and the orchestra provided sympathetic support throughout, not just in their vigorous applause for Landauer after the piece, which mirrored the audience’s. It was a happy instance in which an orchestra becomes more than an organization. It becomes a community.

The other big piece on the program at the Orange County Performing Arts Center was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, the doom-laden struggle against fate.

St.Clair led a roughhewn, sectional and often raucous account, best in the large conflicted moments of the first movement and the quirky juxtaposition of instrumental groups in the third. But no forward, integrating impulse was evident. The music often lagged in purpose and cohesion, especially when textures grew thin.

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Still, everyone, including the conductor, worked hard. The players managed to respond alertly to the conductor’s whipped-up tempos in the last movement, but it was all speed without character.

St.Clair opened the program with a silvery account of Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” creating as much tonal separation as possible on stage by seating the composer’s designated separate group of nine players in a line at the back.

A prominent contributor was Frank Powdermaker, a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony, who was guest concertmaster for the program (repeated Thursday) during the search to fill the position permanently.


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