The following review appeared in the Santa Monica "Outlook" on Thursday, May 22, 1997.
Santa Monica Symphony ends season in style
By Eric Davis
The Santa Monica Symphony concluded its season Sunday with three popular works from the standard repertoire and a contemporary composition by Los Angeles-based composer Donald Crockett.
Conductor Allen Robert Gross guided the orchestra through "Roethke Preludes," composed in 1994, with the same ease and fluency it displayed in the preceding overture from Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" -- no hint of the thorny complexities of ensemble in their delivery. "Roethke Preludes" is a collection of six "musical images," corresponding directly to fragments from the work of American poet Theodore Roethke. Crockett's tonal landscapes are ephermeral spaces, momentary evocations of subtle avenues of thought. His rhythms and sonorities are exotic, sophisticated and delicate. The music made greater demands of the orchestra as an ensemble than upon any given player or section, putting most of the responsibility on the conductor to make the piece coherent and expressive. Gross gave the work a clear exposition, never creating any doubt that what we were hearing was what we were supposed to hear.
Surprisingly, Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto which followed sounded tense and awkward by comparison. The evening's soloist, German-born pianist Babette Hierholzer, seemed to be at the root of the problem. Perhaps it was just not her night. Her abrasive tone and uneven sense of rhythm made Gross' job doubly difficult. In general, Gross appeared to favor crisp, clean, no-nonsense interpretations of the kind classical listeners in the '50s were accustomed to hearing from Toscanini in his now-famous radio broadcasts. His Beethoven was orderly, though occasionally a bit fast for what his soloist could articulate comfortably.
The concert concluded with a passionate reading of Schumann's Fourth Symphony in D minor. Led throughout by a committed and unified body of strings, the orchestra responded with increasing sensitivity to Gross' able baton until, in the final movement, players and conductor became like one. Gross, sensing this, began to push and pull the tempo expressively and the group never left him. It was an exciting display of music-making from Santa Monica's local orchestra in their season finale.
Eric Davis is a free lance writer specializing in classical music.