In his remarks to the audience preceding this afternoon concert on Sunday, May 1, CAMA’s executive director Mark Trueblood shared some astonishing facts about the organization’s relationship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The LA Phil has performed in Santa Barbara every year since 1920, and in the 97-year history of CAMA, there have been 500 orchestral concerts, 280 of which were played by the orchestra from Los Angeles.
Who said you have to travel to a bigger city to hear the best music? No one from Santa Barbara, ever. This concert saw up-and-coming international conductor Jakub Hrůša on the podium and the prodigious Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the piano for Edvard Grieg’s evergreen Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16. The orchestra was, as always, brilliant, and the soloist was spectacular, lending French panache to the proceedings in an account that was both technically formidable and charged with energy and passion. The enthusiastic standing ovation he received encouraged Thibaudet to stick around for a long and elegant solo encore of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2.
The other pieces on the program took a wild ride through the outer reaches of 20th century program music. Modest Mussorgsky’s St. John’s Night on Bald Mountain was composed to evoke a witch’s sabbath, and in this original version, recovered and revived after being rewritten into blandness by a scandalized Rimsky-Korsakov, it sounds like one. Infernal chirpings, trippy tympanic rolls, and the insistent repetition of fragmentary native Russian melodies all contribute to a thoroughly delightful sense of chaos and impending doom.
After the intermission, the orchestra embarked on another, longer excursion through the narrative impulse of Leos Janacek as reflected in his three-movement suite Taras Bulba. Although it offered fascinating moments of proto-minimalism, overall the mood was less coherent than that of the Mussorgsky, and both pieces were left behind by the powerful flights of the Grieg, which remains one of the greatest achievements in the concerto form.