Paradise Lost

Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Heiichiro Ohyama,
with Sheryl Staples, violin.

At the Lobero Theatre, Tuesday, May 16.

André Watts, piano, in recital at Campbell Hall,
Thursday, May 18.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

It doesn’t reflect much credit upon me that I didn’t grasp the
brilliance of Sheryl Staples’s violin-playing when she was
concertmaster of the Chamber Orchestra. The fire and grace with
which she imbued the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major,
K. 218
, pulled me right out of the coma into which the rest of
the program sank me. The first movement’s cadenza was a tour de
force. I was quite swept away.

Maestro Ohyama has, in any case, rather spoiled me for other
conductors of Mozart, but even he could not sustain any momentum in
the “Jupiter” Symphony — surely the most overrated
composition in the entire Köchel catalogue — which comes to a dead
stop every 20 bars or so and has to start over. The “Serenata
notturna” that began the concert was nice, insofar as it was
Haydnesque, but otherwise all but anonymous.

The pianist André Watts plays with such tremendous authority
that I was ready for a memorable evening and a dazzling recital on
Thursday. Well, the recital was dazzling, all right, but the
evening was mostly memorable on account of the nearly continuous
coughing in the hall.

Watts played a program for connoisseurs — Mozart, Beethoven,
Schubert, Chopin, Ravel, Debussy — but unfortunately, connoisseurs
made up barely half of the nearly capacity crowd. The other half
were students, mostly on assignment, whose interest in the music
was minimal to nonexistent. Scarcely a minute passed in the whole
concert without an eruption of self-conscious coughing. Even while
Beethoven and Schubert thundered, no interval was too short to
escape the hacking. The slow movements were almost unbearable. If
this is the next generation of music lovers, we’re sunk.

Watts’s Mozart is delicate and precise, his Beethoven is potent
yet reflective. Any piece by Schubert that lasts more than five
minutes tends to lay a heavy glaze on my eyes. Even though Watts’s
playing of the Sonata in A Minor, Opus 143, was powerful
enough to keep me listening longer than that, it didn’t hold me to
the end.

After the intermission, probably because so many of the students
took the opportunity to bolt, the coughing became a matter of solos
instead of choral, though still more or less continuous. I was
able, especially, to appreciate his performance of Ravel, which
showed us how to be subtle without becoming wispy.


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