The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra finished its 2012-2013 season with a spring concert of music by matchless melodists — Gioacchino Rossini, Franz Schubert, and W.A. Mozart — and with a special guest pianist, Alessio Bax. Under the galvanizing direction of Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama, now marking 30 years as music director and conductor of the SBCO, the musicians demonstrated precision and inspiration that rendered these choice beauties clean and sparkling.
The evening began with the rollicking lyricism of the overture to L’Italiana in Algeri by Rossini, coinciding (only one week short, in fact) with the 200th anniversary of the opera’s premiere in Venice (Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, coincidentally, just played last weekend at UCSB Opera Theatre). Ohyama had to take an unusually long pause before lowering the baton, due to audience fussiness in the hall. Good sense prevailed here, for the overture begins with dainty steps of pizzicato strings that must contrast soon after with loud staccato blows of the orchestra.
The heart of the evening was a tribute to Mozart. First, there was the Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, D. 485, composed by a 19-year-old Franz Schubert at a time when he was fully engrossed in Mozart’s music; and second, Mozart’s own mature and brilliant Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491. SBCO made the two works sound as if they belonged together. Bax has recently recorded the Mozart, and the work is clearly in his fingers. Moreover, he has composed his own cadenzas. This is full-spectrum Mozart, rich in emotional complexity, and spanning pianistic demands from the most virtuosic bursts to understated moments of single-note lines. As a bonus, Bax floated us into a separate and very different world, with an introspective encore of his own arrangement of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, which exploits the dense and woody mid-tones of the instrument.