Paradise Lost

Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Heiichiro Ohyama, with Sheryl Staples, violin.

At the Lobero Theatre, Tuesday, May 16.

André Watts, piano, in recital at Campbell Hall, Thursday, May 18.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

It doesn’t reflect much credit upon me that I didn’t grasp the brilliance of Sheryl Staples’s violin-playing when she was concertmaster of the Chamber Orchestra. The fire and grace with which she imbued the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218, pulled me right out of the coma into which the rest of the program sank me. The first movement’s cadenza was a tour de force. I was quite swept away.

Maestro Ohyama has, in any case, rather spoiled me for other conductors of Mozart, but even he could not sustain any momentum in the “Jupiter” Symphony — surely the most overrated composition in the entire Köchel catalogue — which comes to a dead stop every 20 bars or so and has to start over. The “Serenata notturna” that began the concert was nice, insofar as it was Haydnesque, but otherwise all but anonymous.

The pianist André Watts plays with such tremendous authority that I was ready for a memorable evening and a dazzling recital on Thursday. Well, the recital was dazzling, all right, but the evening was mostly memorable on account of the nearly continuous coughing in the hall.

Watts played a program for connoisseurs — Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Ravel, Debussy — but unfortunately, connoisseurs made up barely half of the nearly capacity crowd. The other half were students, mostly on assignment, whose interest in the music was minimal to nonexistent. Scarcely a minute passed in the whole concert without an eruption of self-conscious coughing. Even while Beethoven and Schubert thundered, no interval was too short to escape the hacking. The slow movements were almost unbearable. If this is the next generation of music lovers, we’re sunk.

Watts’s Mozart is delicate and precise, his Beethoven is potent yet reflective. Any piece by Schubert that lasts more than five minutes tends to lay a heavy glaze on my eyes. Even though Watts’s playing of the Sonata in A Minor, Opus 143, was powerful enough to keep me listening longer than that, it didn’t hold me to the end.

After the intermission, probably because so many of the students took the opportunity to bolt, the coughing became a matter of solos instead of choral, though still more or less continuous. I was able, especially, to appreciate his performance of Ravel, which showed us how to be subtle without becoming wispy.

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