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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 2:56 am | Fair 45º


Gerald Carpenter: Ensemble Celebrates European Past, American Present

Professor Paul Bambach and his UCSB Wind Ensemble will perform their fall-quarter concert Thursday

It seems that whenever the concert season threatens to go stale on us, with lackluster programs stretching off into the indistinct future, along come professor Paul Bambach and his UCSB Wind Ensemble like a gust of fresh air, er, wind. Their fall-quarter concert — at 8 p.m. Thursday in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall — keeps the tradition alive.

Bambach and graduate assistant Kathryn Woolf have devised yet another innovative evening of entertainment, with just the right mixture of the tart and the sweet.

Among the latter, we may certainly include Charles Gounod’s Little Symphony for Wind Orchestra and Ludwig Spohr’s Notturno in C Major for Wind Instruments “and Turkish Band,” Opus 34.

I am less comfortable placing the three other works on the schedule in the “tart” column — I did so carelessly, never having heard any of them, on the slim grounds that the composers are all still alive. They are Robert Jager’s Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, Robert Sheldon’s Velocity and Frank Ticheli’s Gaian Visions. I won’t go any further out on a limb, describing music I have not heard, except to express my approval of anybody referring to Earth as “Gaia.”

It would be inaccurate to call Gounod’s Petite Symphonie “overlooked” or “obscure.” The work has been frequently recorded — I own three; two from the early 1950s and one from 1975 — and any wind ensemble managing to stay together for more than a season or two has performed it with fair regularity. And no wonder; it is delicious music, airy and tuneful.

French composer Charles Gounod, in this portrait by Henri Lehmann, seems to take himself more seriously than do most musicologists
French composer Charles Gounod, in this portrait by Henri Lehmann, seems to take himself more seriously than do most musicologists.

The problem with Gounod (1818-93) is remembering him for longer than five minutes after you have heard one of his works. He is a charming lightweight. His famous operas are lightweight, the Petite Symphonie is lightweight, and the Fantasia on the Russian National Anthem manages to be lightweight and ponderous at the same time. Even his Saint Cecilia Mass is lightweight, though Werner Herzog made very effective use of its “Sanctus” in his remake of Nosferatu.

Gounod has his operas to keep his name alive, Spohr (1784-1859) has just about disappeared, for all that he was a much better composer. My 1935, Grove’s Dictionary, introducing him as a “great violinist and composer,” devotes nine-plus pages of exceedingly fine print to Spohr, while begrudging Gounod less than four.

Paul David, who wrote the article, considered his violin concerti as his greatest works: “They are distinguished as much by noble and elevated ideas as by masterly thematic treatment; while the supreme fitness of every note in the solo part to the nature of the violin need hardly be mentioned.”

He also wrote oratorios, which the chorus-loving English still revive on occasion. The Notturno probably dates to the period while he was serving as leader in the band of the Duke of Gotha. I don’t know where the “Turkish” part comes in.

Tickets to Thursday’s concert, sold at the door, are $15 for general admission and $7 for students. For more information about UCSB Music Department events, click here or call 805.893.7001.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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