The Santa Barbara Symphony presented a compact, crowd-pleasing performance of Mozart and Puccini on Sunday afternoon, though the guests present onstage clearly were the prime generators of delight. It was a program with no shortage of guests, featuring clarinetist H¥kan Rosengren, vocalists Eduardo Villa and Evan Hughes, and the Santa Barbara Choral Society. The post-concert chatter indicated that listeners came away with their own ideas about who was the real show-stealer.
Pre-intermission, the symphony, conducted by Nir Kabaretti, delivered Mozart’s 1786 overture to The Impresario, K. 486, and a 1791 clarinet concerto in A Major, K. 622. The extent to which the well-regarded Rosengren’s technique shone in the latter piece came as no surprise, but only the most jaded viewers could fail to be impressed by the man’s presence as well. Though not particularly imposing in appearance, the Swedish clarinetist’s confidence, up front and center without the safety net of a score, bordered the unnatural. The familiar piece’s remarkable clarity made for a seductive follow-up to the operatic burst that opened the performance.
The audience returned from intermission to a substantial increase in scale: Puccini’s 1880 Messa di Gloria took up the program’s entire second half, not to mention what looked like all of the stage’s floor space. Joining the symphony to do the Mass justice were the S.B. Choral Society, Villa, and Hughes. While all were more than equal to the task, the sheer wave of humanity comprising the symphony and the Choral Society, with the distinctly different bodies of Villa and Hughes serving as foreground, formed a touchingly odd tableau.
Whether speaking visually or sonically, the rendition proved engaging throughout, topping off another installment in the Santa Barbara Symphony’s tradition of accessibility. On the way out the door, one woman exclaimed to her presumably less musically inclined companion, “You didn’t fall asleep this time!” With this sort of spirited program, he’d have needed to rack up quite a few sleepless nights in advance to do so.