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MUSIC REVIEWS : Sidlin Conducts in Santa Barbara

Over the weekend, the season-long parade of guest conductors in Santa Barbara came to a sighing close, and not a concert too soon.

Conductor Murry Sidlin, currently holding a post with the San Diego Symphony and principal guest conductor-elect at the Oregon Symphony, was the ninth contender for the post of music director left vacant by the death of Varujan Kojian a year and a half ago.

What the season gained in variety, it lacked in the cohesion of having a single figure at the helm. We were left with a rotating baton policy in which the candidates were always at least competent, sometimes impassioned, sometimes insightful.

Sidlin, graced with a bit of each of those qualities, delivered a cleanly articulated and balanced-enough program. At its best, the orchestra realized Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Opus 6, No. 7, with fitting composure and reflectiveness, equipped with a sense of both momentum and delicacy.

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A scaled-down orchestra for Handel contrasted with expanded ranks for Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” bolstered by the estimable presence of the Santa Barbara Choral Society and the luminous presence of soprano Sylvia Wen. Bernstein’s uneven work amounts to a liturgical showpiece--with too much emphasis on the show--in idiom somewhere between Broadway-ish syntax and a stirring brand of modernity.

Shifting emotional-historical gears, Sidlin elicited an amiable, romantic sweep for Brahms’ Second Symphony. Lucid phrasing, surging force and fine textural coherency marked the orchestra’s reading of the work, treated like the sporting, genteel romantic vehicle that it is. It offered audience-friendly closure to the Saturday performance at the Arlington Theatre, and to the season.


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