[Editor’s note: Franz Schubert composed Symphony No. 8 in B minor, “Unfinished.” The story has been corrected below.]
With spring at hand, the Santa Barbara Symphony and conductor Nir Kabaretti brought a suitably spiritual and joyous program to the Arlington Theatre on Saturday night and Sunday.
The program was highlighted by Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, “Unfinished,” but included works ideal for celebrating both Easter and Passover. Adding to the festivities was the inclusion of the Santa Barbara Choral Society, conducted by Jo Anne Wasserman.
The program began with the “Psalm,” the Second Movement of the Symphony No. 1 by the late Paul Ben-Haim, lauded in the program as Israel’s leading 20th-century composer. Ben-Haim, born Paul Frankenberger in Munich, was so gifted as a young man, he was appointed assistant conductor to Bruno Walter at the Munich Opera when he was barely out of school.
His career, like so many others, was interrupted by the Nazi takeover, and he emigrated to what was then Palestine, later the state of Israel. Serene at heart, the “Psalm” features flute, oboes and horns weaved with an Israeli folk theme.
Next came the mighty Schubert, always fascinating because it is so mighty, so filled with beautiful melodies, and so … unfinished. To this day, theories abound about why he never finished it. The fact remains that it is a stunning work, even in its foreshortening, and the symphony did full justice to it.
The second half of the program was taken up by works by Giuseppe Verdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Alexander Zemlinsky, all with spiritual meanings.
Verdi’s Stabat Mater from the “Four Sacred Pieces” was among the last music the great Italian composed. Surely, as Verdi grew into old age and faced the inevitable, he was more than ever drawn to religious themes. This piece gives full power to the chorus’ women, and becomes more mystical as it nears its end.
It was followed by Mozart’s “Ave, verum corpus,” K. 618. This was composed the year of Mozart’s death. Although Mozart didn’t have a chance to grow old, his loving nature is shown in all its maturity in this work for chorus, strings and organ. The singers and orchestra gave a tender, warmly enveloping interpretation of it.
Another psalm, the 23rd, closed the program, with the orchestral/choral version in German, by Alexander Zemlinsky, composed in 1910. The critic Anthony Beaumont wrote of this work, “(It) was only logical that he should choose verses that stand at the center of both Jewish and Christian doctrines.” Zemlinsky, who had partially Jewish ancestry, was another Middle European who fled the Nazis. He left Austria in 1938, made his way to the United States and died in 1942, by that time largely unheard.
Thankfully, his work — along with the others heard in this concert — was available to give the weekend audience a beautiful welcome to spring.