[News-Press] Three shades of Mozart
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
More than being one of the indisputable pillars of western classical music, and an impish movie character coursey of "Amadeus," Mozart--theman, the musical riches of the catalogue, the very word--amounts to a comforting and challenging place in culture, always worth a return visit. Santa Barbara Symphony audiences got a chance to pay a visit to that place over the weekend, as Mozart's complex musical message was ushered into the Granada theatre. A full and diverse, all-Mozartean menu was brought to the fore, and in a fine, well-tended form, by celebrated guest conductor Matthias Bamert.
This was not your average Mozartean night out, however. The Swiss-born Mr. Bamert, who led the London Mozart Players for many years and making his debut with the Santa Barbara Symphony, was at the helm of a program in which two "greatest hits" of the Mozart canon, "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" and the Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, arrived after intermission. And those orchestral favorites filled the hall and the crowd's hearts only after a first half given over to the Serenade No. 10 for Winds and Double Bass, one of Mozart's longest chamber works, and scored for only thirteen musicians--a smaller gathering than a chamber orchestra.
As the maestro explained to the audience before the concert's second half, the programming logic had to do with an expanding accumulation of instrumental sound, presenting a serenade for winds first, one for string next and the full orchestral complement for the finale. Such strategic planning aside, the end effect was that the chamber-sized "warm-up" act--a masterful piece too rarely made public--stole the show, in a strange way, from the familiar strains of the more oft-heard orchestral treats following it.
Conducting without a score or podium, Mr. Bamert led the wind players, along with the grounding double bassist (Neil Garber), in the opening "Gran Partita" Serenade and assuredly drew us into its crisp folds and varied emotive contours of the 45-plus-minute score. While there were no official soloists on this Santa Barbara Symphony program, it could be said that solo turns are built inot this music, and were nicely realized by such musicians here as obist Lara Wickes, clarinetist Alicia Lee, bassoonist Andy Radford and French hornist Teag Reaves.
Over the course of its sprawling yet focused seven movements, also containing sub-movements and several Menuetto passages, the Serenade constructs a unified whole, marked by Mozartean elements of surprise and sensuality within the parameters of the composer's seemingly genteel sense of order. These musicians captured the proper spirit, and the conductor shook each of the thirteen hands at performance's end.
"Eine kleine Nachtmusik"--the immortally admired "A Little Night Music"--brought with it a largeish population of string players to the stage, and while the overall string sound wasn't always as cohesive or seamless as one could hope, the familiar appeal of the music emerged intact. Symphony No. 25, written when the composer was a ripe 17 years old, is roughly half the length of the Serenade for Winds, and makes a powerful impact in its controlled space, from the stern, energetic opening movement through the contrastingly lilting Andandte, and through to the sterner stuff of the final two movements.
With Mr. Bamert as a learned guiding force, the Santa Barbara Symphony, on the whole, rose beautifully to this extended Mozartean moment. From the modest revelation of the chamber opener through the comfortnig balm of bluster of the orchestral outings, the evening made us believers. Again.