By Ted AYALA
The California Philharmonic provided some much needed relief on Saturday night from the oppressive heat and humidity that enveloped Southern California. A bit of Beethoven, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles, not to mention the open-air stage at Santa Anita, helped cool off the crowds. The orchestra turned up the heat in the program’s second half, however, when Beatles tribute band The Fab Four came to share the stage.
The Beatles’ music, especially their later work, translates well into the medium of the symphony orchestra. Paul McCartney claimed much later that he and John Lennon were familiar with Mahler’s music and would often sing his songs at their piano. Whatever it was, there is a discernible turn beginning at Rubber Soul where The Beatles’ music broadens its scope; a vision enhanced by producer George Martin’s elaborate and often very playful arrangements.
The set of songs chosen for The Fab Four’s appearance, which included a pair of songs from McCartney’s and Lennon’s post-Beatles solo ventures, were a good fit. The Fab Four’s ensemble was tight; a really admirable resurrection of the Beatles sound.
A symphonic arrangement of three songs from the Liverpudlians’ one-time Hawthorne, Calif. rivals, The Beach Boys, preceded The Fab Four’s set. Like The Beatles, Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys’ leader, pursued a nearly obsessive quest to push the boundaries of what was possible in pop music, a trajectory that reached its apex when Wilson produced the ill-started Pet Sounds and Smile albums. It was a shame that material in the medley focused on the group’s earlier work because the possibilities for symphonic expression were realized by Wilson himself in those two albums – both albums the result of an uncompromising drive to fashion a more profound, even more dangerous and subversive pop. Imagine hearing ornately complex songs like “Wonderful,” “Cabinessence,” “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” or “Surf’s Up” given the full orchestra treatment.
Opening the program was Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6” with Victor Vener leading an unhurried interpretation that had a rough, peasant quality that suits the music well. Though the second movement “Scene by the Brook” was as lovingly shaped as one could hope to hear, it was also a pleasure to hear the warmth and care lavished on the symphony’s last movement, so often tossed off by other conductors as an afterthought to the “Storm” movement that precedes it.
The California Philharmonic’s winds were on fine form, with especially pointed contributions from the solo clarinet and bassoon in the country bumpkin-ish third movement.
The California Philharmonic’s next concerts are on July 13 and July 14 at Santa Anita Park and Disney Hall respectively. For tickets and more information, call (626) 300-8200 (Santa Anita), (800) 745-3000 (Disney Hall) or visit www.calphil.org.