The end of the concert season always brings a spate of big, symphonic showpieces, as orchestras go into summer with a bang (and goose their audiences into subscriptions for next year). The Marin Symphony chose Strauss' symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life, Op. 40) as its grand finale, and you don't get much showier than that. The score has more audition excerpts per square inch than almost any piece in the repertory, and it packs a wallop. Under Music Director Alasdair Neale, the orchestra played exceptionally well in Sunday night's concert at the Marin Veterans' Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael. This was a performance any regional orchestra would be proud to own. The concert turned out to be a kind of distillation of Strauss' career. It began with an early work, the Wind Serenade in E-flat Major, Op. 7 (1882). The composer, at 18 years old, was still influenced by his father's musical tastes, and the piece looks straight back to Mozart, as was becoming fashionable in late-19th-century Europe. It's pleasant and melodious music. After dispatching this hors d'oeuvre gracefully, the orchestra brought on soprano Rebecca Evans to sing Strauss' last completed pieces, the Four Last Songs (1948). These sublime masterworks are the furthest thing from Strauss' showman manner, and their subject matter is exactly what we expect from a composer at the end of his career and life. There is no fear in them — they glow with warmth and contentment. But the songs do require virtuosity from the singer handling their long lines. Evans, who has established a major career here to go with her successes in Europe, was a disappointing soloist. Her voice is not entirely suited to the pieces. It's clearer and more effective in the upper registers, which is why she often sings the –ina and –etta roles in opera. (Her San Francisco debut was as Adina in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore.) Kirsten Flagstad sang the Four Last Songs at their premiere. They lie heavily in the middle register and require climaxes and sustained notes that seem cruel to inflict on lighter, higher voices. Singing within herself, rather than trying to channel Jessye Norman, Evans managed reasonably. She phrased expertly and took care of her enunciation. She floated beautiful pianissimos and was infused with the meaning and spirit of the songs. But she also found herself out of breath at the ends of some lines and, to conserve air, needed to back off some forte dynamics. These songs contain few passages where her voice could bloom and show its real qualities. Often, the sound seemed distant, and Evans was swamped by an orchestra that was held in check by Neale.