Thanks to CAMA, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has earned the right to proclaim itself our most frequent symphonic guest, having appeared here even more often than the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Now under the bow of conductor and violin soloist Pinchas Zukerman, the orchestra returned to the Granada Theatre last week for a sold-out concert featuring substantial works drawn from three different centuries. For the opening piece, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041, Zukerman called on a relatively small number of the more than 70 musicians available to him. The reduced sound was perfectly suited to the piece, which dances along in the manner of Vivaldi until the unmistakable punch of Bach’s fugal writing lights up the final movement.
Next was the Verklärte Nacht of Arnold Schönberg, as arranged by the composer for string orchestra. Originally a sextet, Verklärte Nacht predates Schönberg’s abandonment of conventional tonality and exhibits the influence of not only Wagner but also Brahms. Mostly heard as played by chamber orchestras, this spectacular reading called for all 51 of the RPO’s string players. None of the details were lost, and both visceral texture and a feeling of lift were gained through the presence of the massed instruments.
After the interval, cellist Amanda Forsyth joined Zukerman and the orchestra for the Double Concerto in A Minor for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Op. 102 of Johannes Brahms. The conversation between the solo instruments was agile and expressive, while the orchestra, left nearly unguided whenever maestro Zukerman had to play, still maintained strict tempo and discipline among the sections. The result was a stirring, memorable performance of an exceptionally interesting and difficult work — just the kind of thing that has made the RPO such a welcome presence in Santa Barbara throughout the years.