From the very first sounds of the strings in Arvo P¤rt’s Summa (1991) it was clear that the Estonian National Symphony could produce a tone to match any contemporary orchestra. With its amazingly sparse components and slow-moving changes in harmony and tempo, Summa is both classic P¤rt and the embodiment of musical minimalism.
Next came the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26 (1907) of Sergei Prokofiev. Its first movement starts with a wonderful soaring theme that quickly morphs into a kind of bouncing violence. Soloist Joyce Yang’s gymnastics on the keyboard were stunning. She combined flying fingers, crossed hands and delicate touch with great confidence, and the orchestra accompanied her with precision, constraint, and energy. Although the burst of applause that followed this first movement went against the conventions of classical concert decorum, it felt inevitable. The Andantino con variazioni that followed was thoroughly satisfying, and made a clear statement of both the theme and its intricate and rhythmically interesting variations. The music of the last movement capped is strong and grandiose, but the orchestra was well balanced-particularly the brass section, which can easily overwhelm. Wild applause greeted the end of an exceptional performance.
After the interval came another composition by Arvo P¤rt, the Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977). This is minimalism at its most approachable-one long descending soundscape, punctuated by the mournful chimes of the bell, that culminates in sublime resolution. From the very first chime of the bell this performance contained great feeling.
Finally came the Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43 (1902) of Jean Sibelius. It is a glorious statement of national pride that uses broad themes to evoke the snowy forests of Finland. The first movement was very satisfying with tight woodwinds, blended brass and delightful pizzicato cellos and basses. In the Andante I heard more broad musical landscapes confirmed the impression of an orchestra that is comfortable in its own skin. The Vivacissimo was precise, with the punctuation by the brass notably balanced. The last movement, Allegro, brought on waves of pure sentiment with the scenery.
The orchestra under Eri Klas performed beautifully, and although the Prokofiev was the star of the show, everything else was perfectly appropriate and gave a fitting perspective on some wonderful 20th century music. Thank you to CAMA for bringing this jewel of an evening to Santa Barbara.