Art imitates nature, and a bracing after-the-storm wind swept through Santa Barbara Friday night even as Camerata Pacifica presented a tender and whimsical all-wind program. One of the most refreshing facts about this ensemble is the way in which its monthly programs mix it up on instrumentation, driving itself and audiences into unexpected sonic landscapes. As might be expected from a group directed by a virtuoso flutist, Camerata Pacifica banishes the bow at least once a year to make exclusive space for breath power.
“Banish” might not be too strong a term; a friendly rivalry persists between strings and winds and was teased out with glee during bassoonist John Steinmetz introduction to the gem of the evening — a wind arrangement of Antonín Dvořák’s Quintet for Piano and Strings No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81 by hornist David Jolley. Pointing first to iconic wind solos in the Dvořák repertoire — the horn theme from New World Symphony for example — Steinmetz concluded that this wind arrangement “obviously” reveals what Dvořák intended but couldn’t accomplish with strings. Fun aside, this arrangement for flute (Adrian Spence), oboe (Nicholas Daniel), clarinet (José Franch-Ballester), bassoon (Steinmetz), horn (Michael Thornton), and piano (Adam Neiman), while by no means superseding the string original, did indeed succeed in molding a new world from an old one. A great spectrum of timbre is one obvious reason why — single reed, double reed, flute, and brass.
Ease and finesse were amply on display, too, for Malcolm Arnold’s Divertimento for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet, Op. 37, an audience favorite. The whimsy of this short work in six quick movements belies its excellent craftsmanship.
The program also featured two works for accompanied soloist. Suite for Oboe and Piano, Op. 17 by Pavel Haas is thought to express the distress of the Jewish-Czech composer over the horrors of Nazism. Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Francis Poulenc, magnificently performed by clarinet-adept Franch-Ballester, journeys from pensivity to triumph. Pianist Neiman brilliantly cemented the evening together with his vigilant sensitivity.