Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval was supposed to make a welcome return to the Santa Barbara Symphony Saturday night, opening with a pleasant Haydn concerto and closing with a Glière concerto. Somewhere along the way, those plans got the mice-and-men treatment, and the Glière was dropped. Haydn became the finale, and a very brief Glière piece was added to the opening, allowing the beaming Sandoval to show his face and remind the audience that he was around and would be returning for the second half.
So in fact the first half of the evening became centered around Sibelius and his First Symphony in E Minor, Opus 39.
Conductor Giselle Ben-Dor brought us an overpowering Sibelius, starting with a low clarinet and kettle drum that opens a door to wave after wave of impressionistic fury, awesome chasms, threatening whirlpools, towering cataracts. In the occasional clearing in this harsh wilderness, there arises lush romantic melodies. Sibelius saw his first symphony as a response to Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony. No idea who won the battle of the most depressed, but Sibelius surrounded himself with the best scenery.
The second and third movements step back from this heady brew and occupy themselves with melody and exposition, the second featuring a line so simple it almost seems like a joke, until picked up and pulled apart by the orchestra. The fourth returns to the crushing power of the opening.
Ms. Ben-Dor took control of the piece from the start, not so much conducting as channeling the earthly force behind the work, rigid with diligence yet smooth and slinky, putting her body language, hips and all, into drawing the true spirit out of the work through the orchestra.
The appearance of Smetana’s “The Moldau” and the continual sound of a leaking roof somewhere in the Arlington (under renovation and under a Saturday evening downpour) kept things fluid in the second half, at least thematically.
Smetana’s work bases itself around a journey down the title river, and features a lovely borrowed folk tune, a sweeping melody that feels like its arising from a people’s genetic code, not out of any composer’s pen. Yet it’s also one of those melodies that manages to make the rest of the composition seem small in comparison.
At last, Mr. Sandoval returned. His earlier piece, a Glière work that only lasted five minutes, greeted an entirely unprepared audience. Mr. Sandoval’s trumpet lines melded together his two musical worlds of classical and jazz (he began as a child, studying classical trumpet). If Glière didn’t know how to swing, he did now. One can only be left to wonder what the trumpeter would have done with a whole concerto.
Haydn called upon Mr. Sandoval to play a series of lines of increasing complexity in the “Concerto for trumpet and orchestra in E-Flat, Hob. VIIe:1”. Sandoval’s numerous trills and journeys into the instrument’s upper register were a thrill, and he gave the piece the right sort of playfulness to counteract the academic nature of the traditional Concerto form.
Knowing that the audience wouldn’t let him just leave after one full work, he returned to play an unknown work on solo trumpet, then froze the audience in their seats with a solo piano excursion: first a warm and lush composition of his own, then a grand old Cuban bolero, sung in the breathy, hushed tone of a modest vocalist and a helpless romantic.
Fair enough-Mr. Sandoval made us forget the missing Glière and even sent us out into the night feeling we had gotten twice the value of our ticket.