The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra displayed its signature unity and organic flow under the sure direction of Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama last week, launching its 35th season with subtle programming, a new venue, and the return of a favorite soloist. The SBCO has exited the Lobero Theatre while its long-time home is temporarily closed for reconstruction, and moved into Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West — a fine chamber indeed for this excellent ensemble.
An obscure but inspired choice started the evening: Peter Warlock’s An Old Song for Small Orchestra (1917). Except for a handful of instrumental works composed while young, Warlock (a pseudonym for English composer and critic Philip Arnold Heseltine) exclusively composed songs and choral music. An Old Song was penned when Warlock was just 23, and frequently sets oboe and flute in a lush cushion of strings. SBCO delicately expressed the sweet but wistful restlessness of this little-known jewel.
The prodigious Felix Mendelssohn composed his Symphony No. 1 in C Minor at the strikingly young age of 15, thus presenting an enigma where skill in craft and depth of soul belie personal age. The homage to Mozart can be clearly discerned in the first movement, with the tympani-punctuated theme, and the expert alternation between agitated passages and abeyance between storm clouds. The Allegro con fuoco (‘with fire’) movement contains a wonderfully tangled fugue-development section that sparkled with excitement.
Guest violin soloist Kyoko Takezawa took the stage after intermission, classically wrapped in a pistachio gown, and played with joyous fervor Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 14. Takezawa’s lightning-quick runs in the first movement — wonderful in themselves — always served the music, as did her throaty lyric tone in the achingly beautiful Andante. Here, the 20th-century American composer’s mystical genius exceeds even that of his iconic Adagio for Strings.