The carefully plotted program of this concert got a last-minute nudge in the direction of Beethoven when rising star Alana Youssefian was called in to substitute for an ailing Rachel Barton Pine as the soloist on the violin concerto. What would have been a chance to hear the rarely performed Clemenza concerto, which Pine recorded for the first time, became yet another opportunity to bask in the limitless profundity of Beethoven’s only violin concerto, which just so happens to have been written for Clemenza, the composer of the cancelled work. Nicholas McGegan is familiar to Santa Barbara audiences from his multiple appearances conducting ensembles from the Music Academy of the West, but surprisingly, this was the local debut for the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, a Bay Area organization that stands at the top in terms of its reputation for commanding performances rendered on period instruments and in period style.
The “Viennese pivot” proposed by the program notes is the one through which the music of Mozart passed on its way to becoming the roots of a romantic revolution. By linking Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro to the Beethoven Violin Concerto and moving from there to Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 6 in C Major, D. 589, the concert in effect described the course of music as it took the most radical shift in its history prior to the 20th century. Yet the point of these scintillating performances was not the disjuncture, but rather the continuity. Youssefian represents the cutting edge of contemporary period practice, if such a convoluted concept is allowed. Her command of dynamics and ornamentation suits the music, and her lyrical talents elevate her performances beyond any taint of academicism. Under McGegan’s baton, the orchestra achieved full parity with the soloist, a challenge given baroque period performance priorities.
The Schubert symphony sparkled with post-Beethovenian ingenuity of the first rank. Idiosyncrasies of Schubert’s composition ordinarily hidden by the massed sound of the modern orchestra leapt into high relief in this elegant and precise rendition. Congratulations to CAMA for the wisdom to capture this enthralling ensemble for its centennial season.