The following review appeared in the Santa Monica "Outlook" on Wednesday, October 9, 1996.
Symphony's Opener Upbeat, Optimistic
By Peter Lefevre
Sunday night, the Santa Monica Symphony ushered in its 52nd season, and the concert was a good beginning for one of Los Angeles' long-running artistic enterprises. Conductor Allen Robert Gross opened the 1996-97 season with an upbeat, optimistic, sunny program of Mathias, Hummel and Beethoven.
William Mathias' "Laudi" opened the festivities. The work is decisively modern in harmonic texture and emotional content while managing to be quite alluring at the same time. Lush passages are interrupted by crisp explosions, cascades of sparkling chimes complete with grave utterances from the lower registers. It offers mystery, repose and shock, but it is ultimately a positive expression. Hope resides within its breast.
Gross drew forth a weighty interpretation. The profundities did not remain unexplored, the wham-bang sonic effect made their exclamatory points. The percussionists found themselves working double-time throughout, and making crystal clear sense out of a complex score.
The composer leaves the audiences with an unanswered question, a riddle without a punch line. Perhaps declamatory endings are too reactionary.
Zhonghui Dai was soloist for Hummel's Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major, and the whole performance satisfied, given a few caveats. The piece, while not of masterpiece quality, is a charming enough vehicle. The soloist must negotiate a cheery compendium of fanfares and leaps in the first movement, and Dai proved up to the task, though fudging an ornament here and there. That's small potatoes, compared to the rhythmic problems that seemed to dog the performance. Soloist and orchestra lost touch on occasion, as did the orchestra itself. Tempos proved elastic: tight, then slack. As a result, much of Hummel's light and airy sentiment felt heavy and mushy. The rapid, fragile final movement offered Dai a chance to break out of what had been a fairly reserved performance. The brilliant passages forced him to speak out, and in doing so he showed off an engaging musical personality: intelligent, studied and technically sharp.
Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major closed the evening. The introductory material was handled particularly well, followed by Beethoven's exultant glories. The allegretto movement moved along at a clip, Gross opting for efficiency and clarity over ponderousness. In fact, the whole of the symphony was marked by an overflow of energy and spark. No down time. The thunderous, rousing finale built a resolute end.
Peter Lefevre is a free lance writer specializing in classical music.