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Kreizberg leads with insight at Cerritos

Times Staff Writer

As recently as five years ago, the critics were still calling the Russian-born Yakov Kreizberg a conductor on the way up.

Unsurprising news: The 43-year-old musician from St. Petersburg has arrived. And he proved it in his guest conducting appearance with the touring Philadelphia Orchestra in the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday night.

Kreizberg led the virtuoso ensemble -- still a wonderful orchestral instrument, although its sound is seldom as plush or sleek as it once was -- through a demanding program with thrilling authority, confidence and insights, giving the observant listener pungent reconsiderations of familiar music.

The program was changed when the orchestra’s about-to-retire 79-year-old music director, Wolfgang Sawallisch, withdrew from this “farewell” tour because of ill health. Reconfigured, the program consists of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth, the “Pathetique.” That’s a lot of symphonic drama in one evening, but it worked.

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Precise but not finicky, expansive but not vague, Kreizberg is a conductor in constant control, yet one who holds the reins loosely enough to let the players be assertive.

Without creating an overwrought performance, he coaxed the utmost in intensity from the ensemble in Schumann’s mercurial D-minor Symphony. Then he led a genuinely passionate and tragic reading of Tchaikovsky’s valedictory work, one that hardly let up except in the consoling second movement. For excitement, astuteness and the thoroughness of his conducting, one must compare Kreizberg’s mastery with that of the often-admired Valery Gergiev.

In the commodious but still acoustically mystifying hall at Cerritos, the Philadelphia Orchestra, which we have heard regularly for decades in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ambassador Auditorium and Segerstrom Hall, lacked some of its remembered richness and finesse. It remains as accomplished, resourceful and mellow an ensemble as ever, but on Saturday, its ability to play softly was severely challenged, and the outer movements of the “Pathetique” never achieved the quietness one expects.


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