By TED MILLS, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
April 24, 2007 8:42 AM
There was nothing stuffy about the way The Beatles approached classical music. They might have been flag-bearers of youth culture in the ’60s, but their hunger for an ever-widening sonic palette never led them to separate themselves from musical history. And with George Martin as producer, a former classical student who could knock out complex arrangements as The Beatles could melodies, the band indulged in copping licks not just from Chuck Berry, but also from the compositions of Vivaldi and Stockhausen.
So when a crack Beatles tribute band, backed by the Santa Barbara Symphony, played the Arlington Theatre on Saturday, there was nothing of a concession about it. This wasn’t the Longines Symphonette Society plays “A Hard Day’s Night.” This was an exceedingly faithful recreation of a mostly studio-bound oeuvre, and something that, even if they had not decided to stop touring in 1965, the Beatles may not have been able to pull off, had they wanted.
With Richard Kaufman conducting this evening of pops, the symphony dabbled in other British Invasion offerings, allowing the orchestra to shine by itself. The evening opened with Malcolm Arnold’s “English Dances, op. 53, second set.” Mr. Arnold, who passed away last year, was best known for his score for “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” but his “Dances” are pleasant and lightly humorous work.
Mention the “River Kwai” music, and most people think of the tune that Mr. Arnold didn’t write, the “Colonel Bogey March,” composed by Sir Kenneth Alford during World War I. Mr. Kaufman encouraged the audience to whistle along, and they did, all in the playful spirit of a pops concert. John Barry’s “James Bond Theme” followed, and all that was missing from that iconic work was the surf-guitar lead, despite the four guitars waiting for their musicians at the front of the stage.
The headliners then appeared. Technically called the Classical Mystery Tour, although the name alludes to both band and orchestra, the tribute band included Jim Owen as John Lennon, Tony Kishman as Paul McCartney, Thomas Teeley as George Harrison and Chris Camilleri as Ringo Starr. Being only four years since this band’s stiff competition, The Fab Four, played a winning set at the Marjorie Luke Theatre, some in the audience could not help comparing the two.
While Mr. Owen makes a serviceable Mr. Lennon (and is the brains behind the whole evening), Mr. Kishman is the band’s trump card. Not only does he bear an uncanny resemblance to Mr. McCartney, but he aces the vocals, even though I suspect his range is higher than the real Mr. McCartney. Mr. Teeley proves he handles Mr. Harrison’s sliding guitar work, and he even steps in to handle a solo that originally came from Eric Clapton on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” There was nothing to be forgiven in these four musicians, and no one needed to squint to make the illusion work.
The real stars of the show were in the good-humored orchestra (who often gamely sat and listened when not playing). Also shining was Martin Herman, the California State University, Long Beach, composer who faithfully transcribed the original arrangements by George Martin.
Seeing the orchestra play Mr. Martin’s arrangements on such songs as “Eleanor Rigby,” “All You Need Is Love” and “I Am the Walrus” illustrated his radical use of instrumentation and his sense of variety. The double string quartet on “Eleanor Rigby” makes no concessions to pop, and its trio of dueling melodies are solid drama. The live performance also allowed the full majesty of “All You Need Is Love” to come to the fore.
Usually hidden behind a tinny mastering job on compact disc, the orchestra revealed a number of Mr. Martin’s musical jokes, including a moment when about eight members would separate from the whole and play a different song entirely, like a radio fading in and out. “Walrus” gets a lot of its general effect from its seasick strings, with their deep dives into cello runs and an ending that uses Shepard’s Ascending Tones to give the illusion of ever-ascending notes. How thrilling it was to see the first strings in full, shivery tremolo near the end.
More proof, if needed, of Mr. Martin’s talents was the comparison to Phil Spector’s arrangement for “The Long and Winding Road,” from the only album Mr. Martin didn’t produce. For “Road,” the strings do what they usually do in pop music — a honeyed wash filling out the empty spaces left by the group.
Though the evening ended with a rousing “Twist and Shout,” and the orchestra closed with the appropriately titled “The End,” there is no doubt the shining moment came with the rising discord of “A Day in the Life,” probably one of the most recognizable yet avant-garde sounds in 20th century music, and whose closing crashing piano chord seals off its chaos with resounding mortality.
And to hear it live? Well, it was fab.