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Unlimited Potential

Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. At the Lobero Theatre,
Tuesday, December 12.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

IMG_5069_2.jpgFrom the opening notes of the evening’s
first piece, Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite, Op. 40, it was clear the
Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra has never been more healthy, vital,
and spirited. Without the presence of a guest soloist, it was
easier than ever to hear the individual musicians, and to
understand why they take such pleasure in their programs. The Grieg
is a gorgeous piece of music, full of wit and seduction, with just
enough of both Scandinavian folk charm and Bach-like depth to
enchant even the most Beethoven-obsessed of audiences. The recipe
calls for two parts slinky maneuverability, one part indelible
clarity, and a generous helping of perfect-pitch pixie dust. Before
it was over, the spell of the chamber orchestra had been cast, and
we were all rapt in anticipation of the greatness to come.

The second piece was the “Fugue: Allegro Molto” from Beethoven’s
String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, “Razumovsky,” which the strings
of the orchestra played in a rare orchestral arrangement. Those
with an interest in Beethoven’s string quartets know this movement
of the “Razumovsky” is among the most original and dazzling
compositions in the entire string quartet repertoire—a heavenly
apparition of abundance from within the already exquisite landscape
of Beethoven’s fugal imagination. A truly unique piece of music
performed with tremendous brio and consummate integrity, its memory
will linger with those who heard it.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, “Pastoral” Op. 68
followed the intermission and left no doubt about the preparation
of the ensemble or the beauty of their collective tone. Again, the
chamber orchestra arrangement—this time a smaller than usual setup
rather than a larger one—provided a continuous source of revelation
for a work that previously seemed quite familiar. Although we began
the evening with a piece inspired by literature—Grieg’s Holberg was
a great playwright—we ended with Beethoven at his most romantic and
natural, issuing sweeping landscapes and babbling musical streams.
Congratulations to Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama and his talented
ensemble for bringing us some of the year’s most exciting
Beethoven, and indeed some of the most beautiful music of any
kind.

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