Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. At the Lobero Theatre, Tuesday, December 12.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
From the opening notes of the evening’s first piece, Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite, Op. 40, it was clear the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra has never been more healthy, vital, and spirited. Without the presence of a guest soloist, it was easier than ever to hear the individual musicians, and to understand why they take such pleasure in their programs. The Grieg is a gorgeous piece of music, full of wit and seduction, with just enough of both Scandinavian folk charm and Bach-like depth to enchant even the most Beethoven-obsessed of audiences. The recipe calls for two parts slinky maneuverability, one part indelible clarity, and a generous helping of perfect-pitch pixie dust. Before it was over, the spell of the chamber orchestra had been cast, and we were all rapt in anticipation of the greatness to come.
The second piece was the “Fugue: Allegro Molto” from Beethoven’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, “Razumovsky,” which the strings of the orchestra played in a rare orchestral arrangement. Those with an interest in Beethoven’s string quartets know this movement of the “Razumovsky” is among the most original and dazzling compositions in the entire string quartet repertoire—a heavenly apparition of abundance from within the already exquisite landscape of Beethoven’s fugal imagination. A truly unique piece of music performed with tremendous brio and consummate integrity, its memory will linger with those who heard it.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, “Pastoral” Op. 68 followed the intermission and left no doubt about the preparation of the ensemble or the beauty of their collective tone. Again, the chamber orchestra arrangement—this time a smaller than usual setup rather than a larger one—provided a continuous source of revelation for a work that previously seemed quite familiar. Although we began the evening with a piece inspired by literature—Grieg’s Holberg was a great playwright—we ended with Beethoven at his most romantic and natural, issuing sweeping landscapes and babbling musical streams. Congratulations to Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama and his talented ensemble for bringing us some of the year’s most exciting Beethoven, and indeed some of the most beautiful music of any kind.