Emotions ran high at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Sunday. Billed as an “Armenian Spirit Concert,” commemorating “the 71st anniversary of the Genocide,” the event also served as a homecoming for conductor Varujan Kojian, who had served as assistant concertmaster with the Los Angeles Philharmonic some years back.
The ex-Utah Symphony music director led his new orchestra, the Santa Barbara Symphony, in works by Armenian composers Richard Yardumian, Aram Khachaturian and--Rimsky-Korsakov?
One could forgive the Santa Barbarans’ inclusion of “Scheherazade.” This was their first Music Center appearance, after all. Unfortunately, Rimsky-Korsakov’s showpiece emerged listless and rambling, as this potboiler can sound if allowed to merely simmer. Despite Nina Bodnar’s splendid violin solos, the stiff, businesslike Kojian never seemed inspired.
Such was not the case in the Armenian offerings, notably in a vibrant, heroic reading of Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto. Arutiun Papazian made the most of his flashy solo duties, displaying a casual virtuosity and as broad a range of colors as his ungiving instrument would permit. Kojian led his charges through a driving, crashing accompaniment that showed little sympathy for the defenseless soloist.
A similar lack of balance marked the “Armenian” Suite of Yardumian. Here the booming brass easily dominated the thinnish strings. Only the final pair of excerpts from Khachaturian’s “Gayne” Ballet revealed a true sense of collaboration between orchestra and conductor.