To say that the New West Symphony took it easy with last weekend's program is not to slight the orchestra--the simple pleasure was built into the mostly Strauss evening.
Richard Strauss is one of those complicated period- and style-straddlers in musical history, who worked in both the 19th and 20th centuries and wrote music that belonged firmly to both epochs. He was, at various times, a Modernist, a neo-Classicist and, in dark moments, a suspected Nazi.
The Strauss we heard via the New West was refined, polite, about prettiness rather than angst. His early Horn Concerto, No. 1 in E-flat, Opus 11, written at 19, is a tidy, impressive opus and a tour de force for horn players.
The later Suite to Moliere's "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme," written in 1912 and revised in 1920, is an emotionally light venture, looking back to the easy grace of classical idiom.
James Thatcher, the principle horn player of the New West, as well as one of the busiest horn musicians in the country, neatly dispatched the challenging solo part in Strauss' Horn Concerto.
In front of the orchestra for this occasion, Thatcher cut a workmanlike image, as he persistently cleaned his instrument and attended to the tubing between the phrases of his parts.
But when he played, the instrument sang with a lucid, voice-like tone, delivered with the kind of facile technique that allows us deep entry into the music.
Classical manners, without the "neo" attached, kicked things off in the form of Haydn's "London" Symphony, played by the orchestra with a fittingly blithe elegance and what-me-worry charm.
A smaller orchestra filed onstage after intermission for "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme." This version came equipped with a visual component, a subtle narrative thread through the choreography of Yves de Boutellier, for the Channel Islands Ballet Company.
Dancers Samuel Pergande, Valerie Robin, Jennie Seider and Bretislav Weidlich showed great flexibility and physical grace, matching the orchestra's seamless reading of the score.
All told, it was a breezy, entertaining evening at the symphony. Nothing engaged the soul on any deep level, but it was a perfectly polished, well-mannered cultural affair.
Into the Chamber: Chamber music will find a happy home in the resonant atrium of Ventura City Hall, one of the nicer chambers for classical music in the county, Saturday at 8 p.m. New York City-based violinists Peter-Martin Weimar and Heidi Modr-Weimar will perform works for two violins and piano by Handel, Martinu, Debussy and Ravel.
At the piano will be Newson and Vonise Friedman. It's part of the new Ventura Chamber Music Series, which promises to enrich the classical music scene by bringing in guest artists.
Violinists Peter-Martin Weimar and Heidi Modr-Weimar, Saturday at 8 p.m. at Ventura City Hall, 500 Poli St. Tickets are $15; 643-1751.
Chamber News, continued: Chamber music is in fine hands with the Camerata Pacifica, which presents an intriguing program at Santa Barbara City College tonight and Ventura's Temple Beth Torah on Saturday.
It's a lean but heady program, consisting of Brahms' Sonata in F minor for Viola and Piano, Opus 120, No. 1--with the estimable violist Donald McInnes as soloist.
The keynote event of the program will be Bach's legendary Goldberg Variations, played on the harpsichord, the instrument for which they were composed, by Corey Jamason.
In our time, the Goldberg Variations have become part of the fabric of our collective musical consciousness through the piano versions recorded by the late great Glenn Gould, against which all other performances are inevitably compared. Harpsichord performances lend a different quality to the music.
Vulnerability and quiet nobility, in equal measure, seem to inhabit the hypnotic score when played well.
It should be an occasion worth hearing, and is, to boot, a pleasant reminder of the group's original name and focus, as the Bach Camerata.
Camerata Pacifica, tonight at Santa Barbara City College, 721 Cliff Drive; Saturday at Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Road, Ventura. Both performances are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $23; (800) 557-2224.