Rule Britannia

Santa Barbara Symphony. At the Arlington Theatre, Saturday, January 20.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

The new conductor yielded to the guest conductor for this concert, and deep, sparkling, and thought-provoking music emanated from our beloved orchestra under the baton of visiting English maestro Grant Llewellyn. The opener was by British composer Robin Holloway, who flew in just to catch the performance. His Scenes from Schumann, Seven Paraphrases for Orchestra, Op. 13 puts a stringent, at times stony modernism in the service of seven beautiful Romantic songs, in the process turning 19th century music quite on its head.

Symph2.jpgThe evening’s soloist, cellist Daniel Mueller-Schott, then came on to restore Robert Schumann firmly to his own time and place with the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 129. Mueller-Schott’s sinuous lines and swaying torso cast a spell over the musicians around him as the true hidden spirit of this work, one of Schumann’s greatest and most characteristic masterpieces, was revealed.

Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 in E-flat Major, which followed the interval, is known as the “Drumroll” because of a prominent solo for the tympani that shows up early in the opening movement. Written while Haydn was in England during the uneasy year of 1794, the “Drumroll” was perfect for demonstrating why Grant Llewellyn is considered among the world’s greatest exponents of Haydn’s symphonic art. Each of the intricate movements was played with such precision and apparent effortlessness that one could imagine even Haydn’s contemporary Mozart being impressed.

Like Haydn’s celebrated Mass for the End of War of 1795, which was written just months later and is also known for its use of the tympani, Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 is a glorious late-Enlightenment act of protest against the militarism of the Napoleonic era and the mindless bloodshed of post-Revolutionary Terror. What the world needed then, as it does now, is something that music helps us imagine — peace and harmony throughout creation.

The evening’s encore was a pleasant surprise. The actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, who has already distinguished himself in multiple media, has taken up composition, and the orchestra played a short excerpt from his most recent film score. Calling for two classical guitars, the piece held up under the happy scrutiny of a well-satisfied symphony audience.

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