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SYMPHONY II

The aptly named Symphony II sees itself as a reasonably priced alternative to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. With only three concerts per season so far, it hardly poses a threat, but in terms of performance quality it's definitely on par with the Lyric Opera's pit orchestra and the Grant Park Symphony. Hardly surprising, given that most of those orchestras' first chairs and other members play for Symphony II, which also means that the problems often plaguing the Lyric Opera orchestra--errant brasses, dry string intonation--sometimes crop up in Symphony II's performances. But in this banner year for the Lyric--capped by stirring, mostly precise orchestral accompaniment in the Ring cycle--Symphony II is also at its peak. And in the season finale it can delve unabashedly into the floridly theatrical--its calling card. Not only is Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade a gorgeous sonic tapestry of vivid exotic colors, but Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto adds to the extravagant feel with its generous dollops of loud, overheated swoons. The anomaly is Ives's Decoration Day, an ingenious nostalgic depiction of a rowdy parade and its sad aftermath, but its inclusion is obvious on the eve of Memorial Day. The soloist in the Rachmaninoff is Jeffrey Siegel, an up-and-comer who knows how to crank up the volume. Larry Rachleff, one of Symphony II's keys to success, conducts. Sunday, 7 PM, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, 1977 South Campus Dr., Evanston; 847-866-6888. TED SHEN

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