Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama could have had William Blake in mind when planning this concert’s surprising sequence: Joy and woe are woven fine / A clothing for the soul divine. The program cycled like a pendulum between the sunshine of innocence and the darker complexities of experience. Often concert sequences take a linear journey from old to new, or tonal to atonal. In this case, however, the first half began with a light work by Mozart, Divertimento No. 1 in D Major (1772), and immediately leapt into one of the latest and greatest (for some, the most tortured and least comprehensible) of Beethoven’s works, Grosse Fugue, Op. 133 (1826). After intermission, the mood swung back to another Mozart Divertimento, this time No. 3 in F Major (1772), only to leap into Béla Bartók’s monumental and ravishing Divertimento for Strings (1939) — a “diversion” in name only. These bold contrasts set off each piece with jarring definition.
With an all-string roster for the evening, the SBCO gave lyricism and life to both works by Mozart, with sensitive care to dynamics and playful contrasts. Like finely crafted crystal, these pieces were specimens of proportion and light. Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, the most ambitious work of the evening, was embraced with daring and drive. This chamber-group arrangement of something originally composed for quartet lends even more density to the gravitas¸ while multiplying the challenges to line clarity and intonation. An impeccable performance of Bartók’s Divertimento had the audience on their feet. Bathed in joy, the only woes were any unfilled seats at this superb season opening.