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Con Brio

Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. At the Lobero Theatre,
Tuesday, January 23.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

SBCO%20Eguchi%20Web.jpgThis all-Beethoven program featured
Akira Eguchi, a young pianist trained at Juilliard, for the Piano
Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19, and offered the orchestra
an opportunity to show what it can do with the more Mozartean side
of the world’s best-known classical composer. The opening piece was
the Coriolan Overture, a fascinating and idiosyncratic work that
juggles keys and tempos with abandon. The orchestra and Maestro
Heiichiro Ohyama made the most of its buzzing pizzicatos and
startling rests.

Ohyama is an exciting conductor to watch, and we are fortunate
to have him in this capacity, conducting a chamber orchestra, where
we can see the full range of his expression played out in such an
intimate context. His handling of the Concerto No. 2 was
characteristically flawless, and allowed Eguchi to show off not
only his facility with the piece’s long lyrical lines, but also his
touch in the sections that required stillness and resonance rather
than speed and fluidity. This was one of the most exceptional piano
concerto performances in recent memory, and, when the music was
over, Maestro Ohyama demanded Eguchi take a bow at center stage all
by himself — quite a concession in the hyper-hierarchical world of
classical performance. Eguchi, whose New York hairstyle would make
him just as at home if he were in the virtual, animated band
Gorillaz, plays with wonderful precision and flair, and it was
great to hear the Lobero’s gorgeous new Steinway piano get this
kind of a workout.

The orchestra returned after the interval to present Beethoven’s
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36. The SBCO has made a specialty
this season out of revealing new dimensions in the Beethoven
symphonies, and this crystal-clear performance was no exception.
Due to the space the smaller ensemble seems to open up in the
music, the chamber orchestra approach actually emphasizes exactly
those qualities — dynamics and force — that one would expect to
cede to the traditional, large symphony. And dynamics and force
were present in abundance in this particular work, which is one of
Beethoven’s most lively and rambunctious turns.

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