Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. At the Lobero Theatre, Tuesday, January 23.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
This all-Beethoven program featured Akira Eguchi, a young pianist trained at Juilliard, for the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19, and offered the orchestra an opportunity to show what it can do with the more Mozartean side of the world’s best-known classical composer. The opening piece was the Coriolan Overture, a fascinating and idiosyncratic work that juggles keys and tempos with abandon. The orchestra and Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama made the most of its buzzing pizzicatos and startling rests.
Ohyama is an exciting conductor to watch, and we are fortunate to have him in this capacity, conducting a chamber orchestra, where we can see the full range of his expression played out in such an intimate context. His handling of the Concerto No. 2 was characteristically flawless, and allowed Eguchi to show off not only his facility with the piece’s long lyrical lines, but also his touch in the sections that required stillness and resonance rather than speed and fluidity. This was one of the most exceptional piano concerto performances in recent memory, and, when the music was over, Maestro Ohyama demanded Eguchi take a bow at center stage all by himself — quite a concession in the hyper-hierarchical world of classical performance. Eguchi, whose New York hairstyle would make him just as at home if he were in the virtual, animated band Gorillaz, plays with wonderful precision and flair, and it was great to hear the Lobero’s gorgeous new Steinway piano get this kind of a workout.
The orchestra returned after the interval to present Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36. The SBCO has made a specialty this season out of revealing new dimensions in the Beethoven symphonies, and this crystal-clear performance was no exception. Due to the space the smaller ensemble seems to open up in the music, the chamber orchestra approach actually emphasizes exactly those qualities — dynamics and force — that one would expect to cede to the traditional, large symphony. And dynamics and force were present in abundance in this particular work, which is one of Beethoven’s most lively and rambunctious turns.