Chang generates fire but not much warmth

Times Staff Writer

Sarah Chang was the big draw at the Pacific Symphony concert Wednesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. She played two works -- Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 and Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen" (Gypsy Airs) -- with big, warm, luminous tone. But she revealed nothing about herself or about the music.

"Zigeunerweisen" provided the template of her approach. While other violinists make the first slow section a moody lament, sometimes edging close to sentimental kitsch, there was no danger of that here. Chang was just hanging fire until the fireworks of the second section, which she dispatched with an elan that brought the audience to its feet. But equally dispatched was the notion that there might be some musical value in this showoff war horse.

No one disputes the musical value of Bruch's concerto, but there's a difference between a technically fine performance, as we got here, and a personally expressive one, which we didn't. The same approach to a slow-fast pattern emerged. While Chang could play softly, she didn't play intimately. She made the Gypsy fire of the last movement a kind of etude, and her rush to the finish was particularly distressing to those who love this music.

Still, Chang is only 21, and there is plenty of time for her artistry to mature.

Conductor Carl St.Clair tended to push the orchestra to percussive extremes in both pieces. But he was more refined in a buoyant account of Haydn's Symphony No. 88, which opened the program, and a clear-headed reading of Debussy's "La Mer," which closed it. The evening's heroes were the orchestra's strings, which now have a lock on richness, unity and depth.

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