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Although it may seem incongruous to imagine, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an excellent violinist and wrote his violin concertos in much the same spirit as his piano concertos - as works that could be conducted by the soloist. Cho-Liang Lin was the guest conductor for Tuesday evening's concert of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, and listening to him play Mozart's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 4 in D Major - while watching him conduct - gave a good sense of what it might have been like to see Amadeus pick up the fiddle and use it as a baton.
Lin has lightness and technical virtuosity to spare, and he puts it all in the service of the music. This is one of the most familiar of all of Mozart's works, and virtually every violinist in the orchestra must have played it at one time or another, yet you could see the unfeigned interest on all their faces as they studied Lin's ringing, yet subtle, performance. Lin is a close associate of Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama's, and has succeeded him as artistic director of the prestigious La Jolla SummerFest. His extensive experience as a conductor and a deviser of programs - he also directs a large annual festival in Taiwan - showed in the relaxed, confident way he wielded his musical authority from the podium.
Putting aside his violin, Lin showed his fluency as a conductor in a more modern idiom on the subsequent piece, Richard Wagner's Siegfried Idyll. The orchestra gave a delicate, focused account of this charming work, which is based on a German lullaby and includes some beautiful writing for horn and winds.
The evening's finale was the first symphony of Beethoven, always a welcome guest at any gathering, and especially so with the Mozart concerto as its companion. The Mozartian aspects of the symphony were all there, clearly etched in the sharper sound of the chamber orchestra. But the real excitement came in the third movement, in which Beethoven playfully overturns any lingering 18th-century expectations with a whirling and lush scherzo instead of the more standard form of the minuet. The orchestra was a model of balance and articulation throughout, offering the audience another way to hear this great canonical work of the classical tradition.