The Santa Barbara Symphony, under the direction of maestro Nir Kabaretti, was well served in this concert by an all-Beethoven program that combined the stirring romanticism of the Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68, “Pastoral” with the gravity and logic of the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, “Emperor.” The concert opened with the “Pastoral,” which Kabaretti took at a relaxed pace, emphasizing the gorgeous textures of the massed strings. In the second movement—Andante molto mosso, or the “Scene at the Brook,” as the traditional programmatic reading of the piece would have it—Kabaretti maintained a beautifully consistent flow and pulse that brought out the folk-like inventiveness of the composer.
No performance of a Beethoven symphony would be complete without some dynamic thrust and counter-thrust, and this was achieved as well in both allegros, the third, known as “A Merry Gathering of the Peasants,” and the fourth allegro, or “Storm,” movement. Bold statements from the timpani cued the characteristic stabbing Beethoven drama of counterpoint from the strings.
The piano concerto, with Hong Xu as guest soloist, turned out to be the unexpected highlight of the program. Xu has a light touch and a clean, metrically precise style that was wonderfully suited to bringing out the nuance in each of Beethoven’s impressive three movements. Xu consistently found the sweet spot in which the soloist and the orchestra meet on an equal basis, and Kabaretti conducted with both restraint and passion. The result was a resounding success, bringing the heights of Beethoven’s musical imagination down to earth without losing any of their uncanny brilliance. Xu returned for an elegant encore—Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E Minor. Bravo to the S.B. Symphony for bringing such a gifted young performer to the Granada Theatre.