Although billed as a season of “music with passion,” passion was the element most missing where it was most needed in a four-part Long Beach Symphony concert conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke on Saturday at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach.
That was in Carlos Chavez’s infrequently performed Symphony No. 4, “Sinfonia romantica.” Written for the Louisville Orchestra in 1952, the work acquired its subtitle from the composer a year later, after he wrote a new final movement. The subtitle signals the gist of the piece -- melodic, sweeping, individual and appealing.
The three movements, in a traditional fast, slow, fast pattern, follow each other without a break. The first juxtaposes busy, cosmopolitan themes with relaxed, lyrical motives. The second turns one of those themes into a long aria. The third seems modeled on the finale of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, with its heterogeneous mix of elements rushing pell-mell into an exuberant affirmation of life.
Here, unfortunately, the work sounded under-rehearsed and looked over-conducted. Bar after bar, Diemecke gestured in the same maximal way, as if he were hefting the music onto his own shoulders. But the music did not sound maximally energized, nor was it intended to be, measure after measure. It sounded cautious, almost as if the musicians were protecting themselves from misjudgments. It emerged dynamically bland and lacking in direction.
James Tocco was a patrician, fluent and energized soloist in Samuel Barber’s uneven, over-ambitious Piano Concerto. He sang in the lyrical second movement, impressed in the driving rhythms of the third and did what he could (as did the conductor) to make the sprawling first movement cohere.
Diemecke opened the concert with a delightful anachronism: the Overture to Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks,” as arranged for robust, modern orchestra in 1924 by Sir Hamilton Hardy. Too bad we heard only the Overture.
The concert closed with a strong performance of Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite.