[Scene Magazine] Beethoven takes State Street
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
The Santa Barbara Symphony shines with a mostly Beethoven concert, with prodigy Caroline Goulding as soloist
Viewed as part of the overall current season of the Santa Barbara Symphony, last weekend's Granada concert program might have seemed to be a relatively understated venture. It was a concert just built around Beethoven, and from the turn-of-the-19th-century period, before his stormier and more profound achievements later in his musical life.
Of course, "just" is not at all the right word when it comes to one of the greatest composers in Western musical culture. Not incidentally, a particular allure of this program had to do with its tight and engaging sense of focus, with three works created within a short 23-year spread, from Beethoven mentor Haydn's "Overture to 'Armida,'" from 1783, to the too-rarely performed Symphony No. 1 (circa 1800) and his lone Violin Concerto, composed in 1806. It has to be noted that the violin soloist was not "just" anybody, either, but the dazzling teenage sensation Caroline Goulding, who, to succumb to the cliché, is mature beyond her years - all of 16 of them by now.
As maestro Nir Kabaretti explained before the music began, on Sunday afternoon's concert, the orchestra setup varied from the modern norm, instead splitting the violins from side to side, in the manner true to Beethoven's day. The conductor asserted his usual strong but flexible hand in guiding the orchestra here, starting with Haydn's brief, bright-spirited "Armida" overture, which served as a distinctly fitting introduction to the concert, especially given the identifiably Haydn-esque flavors of Beethoven's first symphony.
Perhaps inevitability, the unparalleled and substantial nature of Beethoven's nine symphonies and the ready familiarity of the best-known opuses tend to cast a looming shadow over the earlier and presumably lesser symphonies in the group. But Symphony No. 1 is a vital and transitional work worth revisiting, one clearly more connected to Beethoven's earlier musical maturation process: neater, cleaner, kinder and gentler and more given to comforting resolutions.
Still, there are touches of mischief and dissonance in the first movement, and various subtle tensions abound to keep the score fresh and alive, with its tensions and shadings nicely showcased in the orchestra's reading. The third movement's rapid but dramatically hushed lines drove ever forward, leading, after a brief idyll, into the final movement's energetic flourish to the tidy finish. This is not the paradigm-shifting, soul-questioning Beethoven to come, but a masterful craftsman making a glorious transition from the 18th to the 19th century, and from his classical era tutelage to his powerful and restless personal voice of later years.
On this program, going against common practice in standard orchestra concert protocol, the soloist feature came after intermission, the better to keep things chronologic and stylistically evolving. On Beethoven's beloved Violin Concerto, the best-known classical work of the program, young Ms. Goulding acquitted herself beautifully at the critical task of faithfully playing the score/role as the concerto's protagonist, while bringing something of herself along, as an expressive personality.
With a palpable empathetic connection with the orchestral surroundings, the violinist moved easily from an entrancing delicacy in the Larghetto to the affirmative buoyancy of her finale. She also worked the occasions of her cadenzas - from that ending the first movement to the solo moment bridging the second and final movement - in a relaxed and naturally powerful way, without losing her composure or all-important linkage to the thematic matter at hand.
Moving to another great "B" of the classical universe, she returned for a solo encore of Bach, with control and brio to spare. Add yet another name to the long list of bold young violinists worth keeping tabs on.
Apart from its valuable introduction of a young dynamo to the local scene, as a cohesive whole of a program, the latest Santa Barbara Symphony concert won considerable points the honest way, in an intelligent and illuminating program plan in need of no marketing tactics or blockbustering to do its bidding. Young-ish Beethoven emerged, clean and victorious on State Street.