Review: The Santa Barbara Symphony at the Granada Theatre

Matthias Bamert Conducted an All-Mozart Program Saturday, November 23

After the Santa Barbara Symphony’s radical season opener last month featuring guest percussionist Ted Atkatz, it is easy to read November’s all-Mozart program as a conservative counterweight. If ever there was a tried and true repertoire to come home to, it’s Mozart’s Serenade No. 13, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and Symphony No. 25. Every movement of these two works belongs in Mozart’s “greatest hits” list — consonant, heavenly; this is the stuff of goodness and light. Yet, it is also music that deserves a careful listening, if for no other reason than that we think we know it so well.

Fortunately, guest conductor Matthias Bamert was at hand to help us listen anew. The Swiss-born conductor and composer, who got his start assisting George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, brought special expertise to bear. Having not only extensively conducted Mozart, but many symphonies of his contemporaries, Bamert understands exactly how the master’s genius was a part of, and apart from, his time.

A chamber ensemble of 12 wind players and string bass began the concert with Serenade No. 10 for Winds and Double Bass in B-flat Major. It was an unusual and welcome twist to open a symphony concert with the spotlight on a small group of wind players. In this lengthy work in seven movements, Mozart fully exploits brass, double-reed, and single-reed timbres, with section choruses and combinations, and these wind players showed unity and lyricism throughout.

After intermission, the strings took the stage and launched into the opening unison theme of Serenade No. 13 in G Major, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”. So clear and perfect is this work that its existence seems necessary; a discovery by Mozart rather than an invention. Finally, the wind players returned and joined the strings for a very exciting playing of Symphony No. 25 in G minor, equally immortal and masterfully paced by the assured touch of Maestro Bamert.

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