Dreamquests and Nightmares with Pacific Symphony

Soloist Paul Huang and conductor Matthew Halls share a moment in their performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

The program’s titular draw was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major Op. 35 (1878), in which the soloist was definitely not a newcomer. The first and last thing to be said about the account by the Taiwan-born Paul Huang, in what was clearly the warmest of partnerships with Mr. Halls and the Pacific Symphony, was that it sounded fresh-minted from beginning to end, as if all concerned had just discovered the work and were delighted with it.

Having unearthed a pocket score, and with the Segerstrom blessedly one of the few venues that doesn’t turn the lights down so far that you can’t follow along, I found that early on in the first movement I'd at some time penciled "limp orchestra," presumably at a now-forgotten earlier performance. Not here! Indeed, Mr. Halls later called the Pacific Symphony the best accompanying orchestra he had ever worked with, and who would deny him?

The 19-minute length of the first movement seemed to soar past in half the time, ending in such a blaze of energy that some the audience, either driven by excess enthusiasm or in the mistaken belief that it was the end of the concerto, started a standing ovation that brought many more to the vertical before realizing the error.

Maybe this fazed the players, as Tchaikovsky’s exquisite 12-measure woodwind introduction to the Cantilena, full of delicate shadings between pianissimo and pìu forte, emerged as a slightly perfunctory continuous mezzo-forte. But Mr. Huang’s muted solo entrance, piano and molto espressivo, seemed to right the ship, and the movement continued with all the sensitivity and nuance it needs as an oasis of calm reflection between the rhetorical majesty of the first movement and the headlong finale.

Never one to understate his requirements, Tchaikovsky marks the latter Allegro vivacissimo—and it was, though never with the sense that anyone involved was hanging on for dear life. It was supremely exhilarating throughout, and without the cuts that have sometimes disfigured performances in the past: soloist, conductor, and orchestra finally got their deserved standing ovation, in the right place!

This was a most welcome return for Paul Huang, and a formidable SoCal debut by Matthew Halls. Let’s hope he is invited back soon, and brings with him another great British symphony: any of Vaughan Williams’ other eight, say, or Elgar’s two—or, to get a little more esoteric, E. J. Moeran, Arnold Bax, or Havergal Brian. Conversely, there are some great British violin concertos. 


David BrownLA Opus