The salient characteristics of Mozart’s music—inclusiveness, balance, and intelligent happiness—are always welcome, and never more so than during the holidays. Heiichiro Ohyama and the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra (SBCO) presented this all-Mozart program on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and the Lobero was packed with listeners eager to absorb Mozart’s musical distillation of the golden mean. The group opened with the Symphony No. 31 in D Major, K. 186B, “Paris.” Written in 1778, the “Paris” finds Mozart in full command of an augmented orchestra that includes flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, and kettledrums—all of which were present in this crystal-clear chamber setting. Maestro Ohyama conducts in a tailcoat, and his expressive gestures run the full length of his body. He arches in one direction only to rebound to the other side in response to a call from the section opposite. It’s a pleasure to observe him so closely in touch with the music and the musicians.
For the second offering of the evening, the Chamber Orchestra was joined by clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester. This young virtuoso has become a familiar face in recent years through multiple appearances here, both with the SBCO and with Camerata Pacifica. His playing on the Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A Major, K. 622 was outstanding. He achieves the brilliance of performance necessary for Mozart with ease and seeming nonchalance, and his approach lets the composer’s genius shine. The piece was written late in Mozart’s career, and it takes full advantage of the entire range of the clarinet and of the orchestra, making for a music that exudes nobility and freshness even as it tends toward the somber.
After the interval, maestro Ohyama and the ensemble returned for the Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504, “Prague.” Though it’s unusual among classical symphonies in that it contains only three movements, the “Prague” is anything but skimpy. The mastery of counterpoint in this, one of Mozart’s most popular works, rivals that which can be heard in the composer’s great operas. The strings in particular carry several melodic lines that recall vocal music, and the massed sound of Ohyama’s group supporting those melodies was like a huge buzzing cloud of deep harmony. As in the symphonies of Beethoven, these Mozart compositions project a worldview saturated with hope and geared to the dreams of heroic individuals. Maybe that’s why the theater was full