Showroom Fresh, Mint Condition

Season of the New Maestro, Opening Concert, presented by the Santa Barbara Symphony. At the Arlington Theatre, Saturday, October 14.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Symphony1.jpgThe 2007 model of the Santa Barbara Symphony rolled into the Arlington on Saturday with Nir Kabaretti at the wheel, and the new version of this premium luxury sedan of an orchestra sounded gorgeous. As this was the opening night of the season, there were some introductions. Mayor Marty Blum was there to wish Kabaretti well, and distinguished visitor Henry Fogel, president and CEO of the American Symphony Orchestra League, made the brief and trenchant observation that, by any objective standard, we have an incredibly good symphony orchestra here.

One of the stars of the evening was the program itself. The choices and sequencing were faultless, and what followed as a result was a dream of a symphony orchestra concert. The two Wagner pieces allowed the maestro to unfold the luster of his orchestral fabric, raising the various sections into the spotlight one by one and then weaving them all together into a single dazzling tapestry. One would have to be quite dead not to smile at the theme from the Ride of the Valkyries. The Prokofiev Selections from Romeo and Juliet carried a similar charge of absolute delight, from the syncopated stomping of the Capulet knights to Juliet’s many moods and the melancholy march of the “Death of Tybalt.” Many in the audience are likely to have heard this remarkable piece of music played by the Festival Orchestra of the Music Academy of the West (MAW) at the Lobero Theatre in the summer of 2005. The symphony’s rendition compared very favorably to the MAW’s, which was also excellent. If you count this one — and why not? — there are three live versions of Romeo and Juliet in Santa Barbara this week. Hallelujah! The evening began again after intermission with the introduction of violin soloist Jennifer Frautschi.

Subscribers to the Camerata Pacifica heard Frautschi last May in a chamber setting, also playing Brahms. She has a great, fully integrated approach to the composer’s work, and it was exciting to see her onstage with a full orchestra, looking glamorous in a bright red gown. Her entrance in the D Major Concerto Op. 77 was delayed and formal; a true test of the composure of any soloist, no matter how experienced. Frautschi rose to the occasion, warming to the various themes as they developed and making a particularly memorable combination with the oboe in the second movement. The piece is one of the great monuments of the 19th-century orchestral repertoire, and Kabaretti and company ascended it in style.

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