REVIEW: Nicholas McGegan leads Pasadena Symphony in joyful concert

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Pasadena Symphony; Nicholar McGegan, conductor
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto (Donald Foster, soloist)
Mahler: No. 4
Saturday, February 9, 13 • Ambassador Auditorium
Next concert: April 27, 2013 • 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.


Few conductors in the world look as joyful when they’re on the podium as Nicholas McGegan, who returned for a second straight year last Saturday to conduct the Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium. His beaming smile is infectious to the musicians and to the audience.

Consequently, even on a day that should have been a somber occasion for the orchestra (coming as it did a day after its music advisor, James DePreist, passed away — LINK), the afternoon was instead with suffused with joy and lightness and, oh yes, excellence.

Although McGegan has made his considerable reputation in the fields of Baroque and other genres of early music, in recent years he has been broadening his repertoire. Last season, he led the PSO in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and he will return again for a third consecutive season next year to lead a program that concludes with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6.

Saturday afternoon he concluded proceedings with a light, transparent reading of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Of all nine Mahler symphonies, the fourth seems best suited to McGegan’s ebullient style, and even though this wasn’t the most compelling rendition I’ve every heard, the orchestra played the 52-minute performance exquisitely.

Russian-American soprano Yulia Van Doren sang the fourth-movement text on heavenly light gracefully, employing creamy top tones and excellent diction. McGegan’s tempi seemed a little rushed but the movement concluded in a wonderfully wistful manner.

Prior to intermission, PSO Principal Clarinetist Donald Foster was an exemplary soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. McGegan conducted with leisurely tempi — perhaps a shade too leisurely; a little bit more bite would have been welcome — but Foster played with elegance and superb breath control throughout. He’s one of the Southland’s premiere musicians and it was a pleasure to hear him in front of the orchestra, instead of the ensemble.

• Prior to the concert, the Women’s Committee of the Pasadena Symphony Association presented a check $100,000 to the association representing funds raised during their 2012 Holiday Look In Home Tour.

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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